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To Know the 

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To Know the Universe 


A special issue celebrating the 
opening of the Rose Center for Earth 
and Space 


48 Telling the Ston- 


50 Sphere ot Influence 


60 Theater of the Stars 

61 Night Vision 


COSMOS 2 000 

62 Introduction 


64 Twinkle Twinkle 

67 Prospecting for Planets 

70 Cannibals of the Cosmos 

74 The Big Picture 


77 Genesis: The Sec]uel 

80 The Heart of Matter 


84 Seeing the Whole Symphony 

88 The Virtual Universe 



A Seamless Vision 

As this issue of Natural 
History goes to press, we 
here at the American 
Museum of Natural 
History are putting the 
fmal touches on one of 
the most spectacular and 
ambitious projects in the 
Museum's 130-year 
history — the new 
Frederick Phineas and 
Sandra Priest Rose 
Center for Earth and 
Space. This facility 
embodies a new vision 
of what it means to be a 
museum in the twenty- 
first century. To put it 
simply, we seek to 
perpetuate and extend 
dramatically the role of 
the Museum in 

to the public and 
advancing science 
hteracy throughout 
the nation. 

The Rose Center 
consists of a completely 
rebuilt and reimagined 
Hayden Planetarium, as 
well as the new CuUman 
Hall of the Universe and the Gottesman Hall of Planet 
Earth (which opened to great pubhc and critical acclaim 
in June 1999). It addresses areas of science — astronomy 
and astrophysics — that are experiencing a true "golden 
age" of discovery. 

When the first Hayden Planetarium was built in 1935, 
we had not seen quasars, pulsars, or black holes, nor did 
we even know that such curious objects could exist. In 
1935 we had only fuzzy photographs of the planets of our 
Solar System; since then, we have walked on the Moon, 
sent robot probes to planets in the outer reaches of the 
Solar System, and discovered more than two dozen 
extrasolar planets. With the Rose Center, we seek to 
make astrophysics and cosmology — exceedingly complex, 
abstract areas of science — accessible and comprehensible 
to the public, and to bring the frontiers of outer space and 

The new Rose Center for Earth and Space 

discovery to the people. 
By taking our visitors on 
a journey that reveals 
the universe around us, 
we hope to illuminate 
the magnitude, majesty, 
and mystery of the 
cosmos and, ultimately, 
humanity's place in it. 

Outfitted with a 
one-of-a-kind Hayden 
Edition Zeiss Projector, 
as well as with a 
revolutionary new digital 
map of our galaxy that 
will allow museumgoers 
to travel to the stars, the 
new Rose Center wiU 
also receive feeds firom 
NASA, allowing us to 
learn of events and 
discoveries in space as 
they occur. In turn, the 
Rose Center will be able 
to transmit these images, 
along with our scientists' 
interpretations of them, 
to classrooms, homes, 
and community centers 
across the city and 
the nation. 

Together with our 
beloved existing exhibition halls, the Rose Center will 
enable the Museum to take visitors on a grand and all- 
encompassing journey that tells a coherent, comprehensive 
story of hfe, from the outer reaches of the universe to the 
planet's inner core and through the extraordinary diversity 
of life and culture on Earth. Our extensive collections 
have long provided materials for retrospective scientific 
analysis, and now our cutting-edge technological 
capacities and research can produce up-to-the-minute 
observations through dramatic live images and 
contemporaneous explanation. We look forward to 
welcoming you to the new Rose Center for Earth and 
Space and to the Museum for the new inillennium. 

Ellen V Putter, President 

American Museum of Natural History 

' ij /mWm m . ii MiM 


AMLRK.AN Museum of Natviral History 

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OF Natural History 


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8 LETTERS natural history 2/00 


A Tiny, Brainy Bird 

In "The Cost of a Brain" 
(12/99-1/00), Goran E. 
Nilsson discusses absolute 
and relative brain size and 
cites squirrel monkeys and 
some bats as having the most 
impressive brain-to-body- 
weight ratio (5 percent) of all 
mammals, including humans. 

Birds also provide a 
useful perspective on brain 
size. The common raven, 
which is the largest 
passerine (perching) bird 
and reputedly one of the 
most intelligent, has a brain 
volume of 17 cc. The 
golden-crowned kinglet, 
weighing in at about 
5 grams, is probably the 
smallest passerine. The 

volume of its brain is only 
0.34 cc (one-fiftieth that of 
the raven's). Relatively 
speaking, however, the 
golden-crowned kinglet's 
brain is huge: 6.8 percent (as 
compared with the raven's 
1.3 percent) of body mass. 

In general, the larger the 
brain, the more 
potential it has. But I 
speculate that being a 
passerine bird — perhaps like 
being a primate — requires a 
certain minimum amount of 
capacity, regardless of body 
size: hence the kinglet's 
relatively large brain. 

Incidentally, just because 
a bird is large doesn't mean 


Kings (and Queens) of the Flooded 

rOreSt The aquatic lowlands of the Amazon are home to 
a rebounding population of black caiman. Scientists explore 
the small, remote "nursery" lakes of Brazil's Mamiraua 
Reserve, where these top predators nest. 


Asthma and the Genome The search for this 

common affliction':- controlling gene is turning up 
multifarious possibilities. 

it has a big brain, even in 
absolute terms. A Rhode 
Island red has a pea-sized 
brain of only 3.1 cc (0.11 
percent of body mass), even 
though it weighs twice as 
much as a raven. 
Bemd Heimich 
Burlington, Vermont 

The Future of Vultures 

I enjoyed "Cultureless 
Vultures," by Richard 
Milner (12/99-1/00). 
However, it is probably not 
possible for a species that 
learns, shares, and transmits 
information to be without 
culture. The condors wiU 
succeed to the extent their 
new culture allows. We'U 
just have to see what they 
teach their offspring. 

While we can't have 
cultureless vultures, it is 
possible to have vultureless 
cultures. My thanks to those 
taking steps to prevent such 
an outcome. 
Kent Hanson 
Everett, Washington 

Pre-Adamite Pooh-Bah 

As 1 read Stephen Jay 

Gould's "Pre-Adamite in a 

NutsheU" (11/99), Hooked 

forward to what I thought 

would be his inevitable 
allusion to Gilbert and 
SuUivan's Mikado. I was 
disappointed to fmd that 
Gould had not somehow 
worked in the lines in 
which Pooh-Bah declares, 
"I am, in point of fact, a 
particularly haughty and 
exclusive person, of pre- 
Adamite ancestral descent. 
You wUl understand this 
when I tell you that I can 
trace my ancestry back to a 
protoplasmal primordial 
atomic globule." 
Darel Roberts 
via e-mail 

Duchamp's Deckchairs 

Even after reading "Boats & 
Deckchairs," by Stephen Jay 
Gould and Rhonda Roland 
Shearer (12/99-1/00), I 
must admit that I would not 
have recognized the three 
objects in Marcel 
Duchamp's painting as 
rowboats if they hadn't been 
so labeled. And although I 
am usually good at seeing 
what is in an ambiguous 
image, try as I might, I 
couldn't see deckchairs in 
the picture from any 

Do I lack the imagination 
to foUow where Duchamp, 
Gould, and Shearer lead, or 
are Gould and Shearer 
defining "plausible" more 
broadly than I would? 
Harold Bailey 
North Bend, Oregon 

Natural History's e-mail 
address is 

Visit our Web site at 

With so much to discover on and below the ground 
under the sea ... and in outer space . . . 
(to say nothing of millions of years of history) . . . 

Shouldn't you be 
seeing EVERY ISSUE of 


From animals (feathered, finned and furred) to plants 
and minerals: all. including mankind itself, make 
regular appearances in our gloriously full-color pages. 

Subscribe now to Natural History and receive 10 
absorbing, illuminating issues for just $25 — a 
savings of 37% off the regular newsstand price. 

Nowhere will you experience the splendid variety and 
scope of the natural world as you do in the photo 
essays, articles, special features and columns that 
make Natural History unique. 

In each issue you'll probe behind the science headlines 
in your daily paper ... meet the people who expand the 
frontiers of science ... encounter animals and plants 
you never knew existed ... travel into outer space and 
back ... enable yourself to make informed judgements 
about critical ecological issues ... learn why human 
societies behave as they do. 

The world is a remarkable place and nowhere does that 
come to Hfe more vividly as in the pages of this maga- 

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A Maril! L^^ich 

sponsored exhibition, 

"Leonardo's Codex 

Leicester: A 

Masterpiece of 

Science, " offei'ed visitors 

an in-depth view of the 

scientific thinking of 

one of the greatest 

geniuses in the history 

of the Western world. 

For ten years, 
Merrill Lynch and the 
American Museum 
of Natural History 
have worked together 
to create a successful 
partnership built on a 
mutual belief in the 
importance of science 
and education, both 
today and in the next 


For well over a century, the American Museum of Natural 
History has been a leader among the world's science, 
research, and educational institutions. Since its founding 
in 1869, it has dedicated itself to the compelling quest to 
understand the natural world and man's place in it. The 
Museum's innovative and interactive presentations educate 
about four miUion visitors each year on-site, and over 30 
million visitors on-line. 

To continue its 130-year tradition of excellence in scientific 
research, unparalleled exhibitions and innovative educational 
programs, the Museum relies on support from the corporate 


Over the past ten years, Merrill Lynch, one of the world's 
leading financial management and advisory companies, has 
been an important supporter of the American Museum of 
Natural History. Like the Museum, Merrill Lynch has been 
devoted to community service and leadership in education 
through its participation in educational initiatives, such as its 
ScholarshipBuilder program. On a global scale, all of the 
company's philanthropic eflforts flow from a fijndamental belief 
that people from all walks of life can become self-sufficient, 
fijlfiU their dreams, and realize their goals when offered access, 
tools, and knowledge. 

In 1996, Merrill Lynch was the principal sponsor of the 
acclaimed "Leonardo's Codex Leicester: A Masterpiece of 

A Partnership in Motion 

) Merrill Lynch 




Science, on view at ilic Mnscuni hcun October 26, 1996 through 
l.muaiy 1, 1997. This exhibition ot a rare manuscript by Leonardo 
til Vinci offered an in-depth view of the scientific thinking of one of 
ihe greatest geniuses in tiie history ol the Western world. The Ckidex 
Leicester, written between 1506 and 1510, opens a window into the 
mind ol the awe-inspiring Renai.ssance artist, .scientist, and thinker 
while illuminating both the scientific and creative process. This 
enlightening exhibition included an innovative demonstration 
room, lectures, and children's workshops. 

An additional gr^uit trom the Merrill Lynch Foundation in support 
ol education programs to complement the exhibition allowed over 
6,000 children Irom New York City public schools (grades 6-12) to 
attend the exhibition widi a guide and to participate in speciJ pre-and 
post-viewing programs. 

The trctrtendous success of this partnership has led to an 
enduring relationship between the Museum and Merrill Lynch, and 
in 1996 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David Komansky 
joined the Board ofTrustees ol the Museum. 

"The American Museum ol Natural History has been a source of 
inspiration, fun, and knowledge 
throughout my life," says Komansky. 
"I'm pleased that, as a trustee of the 
Museum, I'm able to support the vital 
role this institution plays — not only in 
the metropolitan area, but wherever 
knowledge is highly valued." 



In July 1 997, Merrill Lynch made a 

$1 million, three-year gift targeted to the Museum's educational 
outreach programs. As part of the gift, Merrill Lynch 
purchased and outfitted a new "Moveable Museum," a 
recreational vehicle converted into a mobile 
exhibition space. The Moveable Museum now 
travels to schools, community centers, parks, 
street fairs and other neighborhood 
organizations throughout the five boroughs of 
New York City. 

The Merrill Lynch vehicle features an 
exhibition called "Structures and Culture, " 
which invites visitors to explore the 
traditional homes of nomadic people in 
Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North 
America and to discover what architecture 
and artifacts tell us about each culture. 

"With our new 'Structures and 

Culture' Moveable Museum, we can 

bring thousands of school kids on a 

virtual, round-the-world expedition of 

cultural discovery, " says Jeff Rodgers, 

Director of the Moveable Museum 

Program. "Merrill Lynch helped us 

create a new way for kids to learn about 

their world without ever leaving their 


"I'm especially proud that Merrill Lynch 

will be honored for helping the Museum 

fulfill its growing mission. The truth is, 

it's very easy to support an institution that 

appeals to all people and is characterized by 

excellence at every turn." 

David Komansky 

/;; ihe Merrill Lyih/j Moveable Museum, a young visitor leaves New York City for 
a moment and explores Montana, home of the Black Feet Indians. 


In addition to supporting exhibitions both within and beyond the 
Museum's walls, Merrill Lynch allocated a portion of its three-year 
grant to the Museum Education and Employment Program (meep), 
to demonstrate its support of the Museum's "human " resources. The 
MEEP program offers meaningful work 
experience to 60 young adults in New 
York Ciry. These students complete a 
rigorous training program that 
prepares them to serve for six weeks as 
Museum guides, thereby enriching the 
Museum experience for the thousands 
of children who visit it each summer. 

As Rosa Almonte, MEEP Program 
Supervisor, described so well, "This 
year's program was so rich. Not only did I learn earth science in the 
Hall of Planet Earth, but I also 
learned about myself by interacting 
with such a diverse group of 


In 2000, the American Museum 

of Natural History will honor 

David Komansky and Merrill 

Lynch for their generous support 

of the institution and of science 

and education in general. "David 

Komansky and Merrill Lynch 

have been generous both with the 

Museum and the entire New York 

Cit)' communit)'. David is a 

valued trustee and member of the 

business communitv and we look 

fonvard to acknowledging his and 

Merrill Lynch's tremendous 

support and vision as we enter the new millennium," savs Ellen V. 

Putter, President of the American Museum of Natural Histor\-. 

For information on the many programs that the American 
Museum of Natural History ofiFers, please call 212-769-5100. 

During the summer, MEEP progi-ivn 
supervisors Rosa Almonte and Mario 
Rivnirez show campers different 
Afj'icd}! objects on the touch cart in 
the Hall of African Peoples. 


CONTRIBUTORS natup-m history 2/00 

Allan Sandage ("Twinkle Twinkle," page 64) has made lasting 
contributions to two of the defining pursuits of twentieth-century 
astronomy. During his student days at the California Institute of 
Technology', his talents in determining the parallaxes and motions of 
stars brought him to the attention of Edwin Hubble. When Hubble 
died, in 1953, Sandage inherited the great astronomer's long-term 
project to find Hubble 's constant, a number astronomers would later 
use to determine the age of the universe (which Sandage now 
estimates to be about 15 billion years). Yet Sandage has never wavered 
from his first love, the stars. He codiscovered quasars and has gone a 
long way toward fulfilHng his dream of learning "everything about 
everything" — at least in the realm of astronomy. 

Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. ("Sphere of Influence," page 50) remembers sitting in a cavity inside a gigantic meteorite when 
he visited the Hayden Planetarium in 1937. He was four years old. At fourteen, he reviewed Jules Verne's From the Earth 
to the Moou for his high school newspaper. Ten years later, after he had graduated from Yale, this same book inspired his 
first piece as a staff writer for the New Yorker, on the transformation of science fiction into science fact. The exploration 
of space remains a fascination of Cooper's; he has pubKshed eight books on the subject, including Thirteen: Tlie Apollo 
FUght Jliat Failed (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995) and Tlie Evening Star: Venus Observed (Farrar, Straus and 
Giroux, 1993). 

Since January 1996, R. Paul Butler ("Prospecting for Planets," page 67), an 
astrophysicist at Carnegie Institution of Washington's Department of Terrestrial 
Magnetism, has detected — ^working with fellow planet-hunter Geoffrey Marcy — more 
than two-thirds of the twenty-eight known planets outside our Solar System. So 
efficient is the technique he's helped perfect — deducing the presence of a planet from 
the gravitational wobble of its parent star — that Butler himself sometimes struggles to 
remember the official tally of the planets. In early November, after a two-night 
observation run on one of the 10-meter Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, 
Butler e-mailed Natural History, "When I wrote this piece, there were 22 extrasolar 
planets, but I used the number 25 so it wouldn't be out of date by February. Strangely, 
we just discovered 6 more, so the number now stands at 28." 

li 11 

Before becoming director of special projects at the Hayden Planetarium, James S. Sweitzer ("Theater of the Stars," 
page 60) was assistant director of Chicago's Adler Planetarium. Already enthralled with electronic devices in his 
childhood, Sweitzer built an electrostatic generator. He worked his way through his undergraduate years at the 
University of Notre Dame as a nuclear physics technician on particle accelerators. For five years, Sweitzer was assistant 
director of the Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctica, overseeing the building of an observatory telescope to 
detect radiation from the big bang. "Building the Rose Center," he says, "is just a continuation of working on science 
projects, only on the largest scale and involving a simulation of the entire universe." 

Michael Shara ("Cannibals of the Cosmos," page 70) is curator-in-charge of the 
JVluseum's Department of Astrophysics. As an undergraduate at the University of 
Toronto, Shara read an illustrated article explaining that a head-on collision between 
two Sun-like stars could lead to either a gentle merging or a catastrophic destruction 
of both stars, depending on the impact speed. "That a computer could produce such 
breathtaking sin mkted pictures of an event no human has ever witnessed seemed 
magical to me," he says. "I was determined to advance that field of research." After 
earning a Ph.D. in 1978 from Tel Aviv University, he went to work at the Space 
Telescope Science Institute, eventually leading the committees that allocate observing 
time on the Hubble Space Telescope. He regrets having too Htde time for scuba 
diving and squash. 

1 54 Years 
Of Precision 

Twenty-three years before 
the founding of the American 
IVluseum of Natural History 
in 1869, Carl Zeiss began 
producing microscopes 
at his precision workshop 
in Jena, Germany. 

Today, the Carl Zeiss company 
is the world leader in precision 
optics and technology. Whether 

you are a neurosurgeon 
using the latest Zeiss surgical 
microscope, a biomedical 
researcher using an advanced 
Zeiss confocal laser microscope, 
a quality control engineer 
working with a high-precision 
Zeiss coordinate measuring 
machine, a viewer of a sky show 
at a Zeiss planetarium, or enjoying 
nature, the theater or a sports 

event with the help of famous 
Zeiss binoculars, you have 
the pride that comes from 
using the best. 

It's a standard we intend 

to keep for another 154 years. 

Carl Zeiss, Inc. 

One Zeiss Drive 
Thornwood, NY 10594 



14 I C N T K 1 B U T R S natural history 2/00 

At the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Margaret J. 
Geller ("The Big Picture," page 74) has worked since the early 
1 98Us with colleagues and students to map the universe and 
understand its structure. She became a MacArthur Fellow in 1990 
and has also received awards for her work in physics and 
astronomy. As a child, Geller was the family navigator during 
vacations, never dreaming she would "one day make maps on 
such a grand scale." Combining her interests in astronomy and the 
visual arts, she has made two documentary films — Wlxere the 
Galaxies Are and So Many Galaxies . . . So Little Time — and is at 
work on another one, about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, the 
woman who discovered that stars are made of hydrogen. 

Mordecai-Mark Mac Low ("The Virtual Universe," page 88) grew up in the South Bronx and first visited the Hayden 
Planetarium as a child. He now is a member of the Museum's newly founded Department of Astrophysics and, for his 
research, uses the supercomputers at the Hayden Planetarium. After completing his doctorate in physics at the 
University of Colorado at Boulder, he held postdoctoral fellowships at the NASA Ames Research Center (near San 
Francisco) and the University of Chicago. He then moved to Heidelberg, Germany, to the Max-Planck-Institut flir 
Astronomie. "Having Hved in every time zone in the lower forty-eight, and having Hved in Europe as well," he says, "I 
admit to being quite surprised and pleased to find myself back in my hometown." 

In 1979 Alan H. Guth ("Genesis: The Sequel," page 77) worked out 
the equations for what he would come to call the inflationary era of 
the universe. This concept has thoroughly revolutionized cosmology 
over the past two decades, by answering many ot the questions about 
the origins of the universe that the standard big bang theory couldn't. 
Guth's primary interest was originally particle physics, but after almost 
serendipitously hearing talks about the early universe by Robert 
Dicke and Steven Weinberg, he reahzed that in the extreme high- 
energy conditions of the big bang, cosmology and particle physics 
were essentially one and the same. Guth, a professor at MIT, tells the 
story in Tlie Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Tlieory of Cosmic 
Origins (Perseus Books, 1998). 

Except for two brief periods, David J. Helfand ("Seeing the Whole Symphony," page 84) has been at Columbia 
University and its Astrophysics Laboratoiy for his entire career. "Unlike most astronomers," says Helfand, who earned his 
M.S. in physics and his Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, "I did not have a telescope when I was 
nine years old and indeed was a theater major at Amherst College. Whereas I was statistically unlikely to work regularly as 
an actor, I discovered I could give ninety-minute monologues to customers willing to pay very high prices for seats in an 
astronomy class." Helfand has now found a considerably bigger theater of operations: his team's current cosmic survey of 
radio waves will provide precise information about the geometry of the universe. 

Brian Greene ("The Heart of Matter," page 80), a professor of both physics and mathematics 
at Columbia University, has been working on superstring theory for more than a decade. 
Greene's research focuses on the new features of space and time that emerge from unifying the 
laws of physics. He is the codiscoverer of mirror symmetry (the recognition that distinct 
geometrical forms of space can yield physically identical universes) and of smooth topology 
change (which shows that the fabric of space can not only stretch but also tear). Greene 
"enjoys finding entertaining ways to communicate cutting-edge physics to those without 
technical training." His book on the subject — Tlie Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden 
Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Tlicory (W W Norton, 1999) — explains to the 
layperson the behavior of the universe on both cosmological and subatomic scales. 




A new light on our horizon. 

Con Edison congratulates the 

American Museum of Natural History 

as the Rose Center for Earth and Space 

opens its doors to the minds and 

imaginations of the next generation. 

16 THE SKY IN FEBRUARY natural history 2/00 

A Show of Planets 

By Joe Rao 

Mercury appears as a rather 
conspicuous evening "star" for the first 
three weeks of February, shining at 
magnitude -1 to 0. By February 6, it 
sets about an hour and fifteen minutes 
after sunset. On that same evening, you 
will find it just 2.5° to the right of and 
shghdy above a very thin crescent 
Moon. JVlercury's greatest elongation 
(or maximum angular distance irom 
the Sun) comes on February 14, when 

and the Sun (inferior conjunction) on 
March 1 . Mercury has an undeserved 
reputation for being hard to see: you 
just have to look in the right place at 
the right time. In short, this is a good 
month to join the small number of 
people who have laid eyes on the 
innermost planet. 

Venus becomes visible as the night 
nears an end. It is still brilliant 

Saturn and Jupiter on the evening of February 10 

the planet is positioned only 18° away 
from the Sun in the twUight sky but 
will appear almost directly above it as 
both descend in the west. The Sun 
keeps a tight rein on Mercury this 
month because the planet's greatest 
elongation falls on the day before its 
periheHon, when it is physically closest 
to the Sun. This circumstance offers a 
very favorable opportunity to see 
Mercury. Later in the month, as its 
crescent rapidly thins, the planet 
plunges back into the Sun's glare and 
quickly fades. It passes between Earth 

(magnitude -4) in the morning sky, 
although it is not as high or as 
prominent as it has been in recent 
months. At the beginning of the 
month it rises with the first Hght of 
dawn 90 minutes or so before the Sun 
and is still very low in the sovitheast as 
dawn grows bright. It sinks lower and 
lower as the month wears on, and by 
month's end it is rising only an hour 
before the Sun. A waning crescent 
Moon will be about 2° above and 
slightly to the right ofVenus on the 
morning of February 2. 

Mars now appears as a moderately 
bright yellowish-orange star of 
magnitude +1.2. It sits low in the 
southwest sky at dusk and sets at about 
8:30 P.M. local time all through the 
month. The waxing crescent Moon 
passes about 5° to the left of Mars at * 
dusk on February 8. 

Jupiter, in the constellation Aries, is 
below and to the right of Saturn 
during the early evening hours. The 
king of the planets shines brilUantly at 
magnitude -2.3 and appears nearly a 
dozen times brighter than Saturn. 
These two giant planets slowly edge 
closer together all month: 12° separate 
them on the 1st, 10° on the 28th. A fat 
crescent Moon will pass about 5° 
below and to the left of Jupiter during 
the late evening hours of February 10. 

Saturn shines at magnitude +0.3 and 
is also found in Aries. It remains about 
18° southwest of the Pleiades and well 
to the northeast of Jupiter and is visible 
until about midnight. A telescope will 
reveal its beautiful ring system, now 
tilted some 21° to our line of sight, 
with the south face visible. The Moon 
will He about 4° to the left of and 
slightly below Saturn late on the 
evening of February 1 1 . 

The Moon is at new phase on 
February 5 at 8:03 A.M. First quarter 
occurs on February 12 at 6:21 P.M., fuU 
Moon on February 19 at 11:26 a.m., 
and last quarter on February 26 at 
10:53 P.M. 

Unless otherwise noted, all times 
are given in Eastern Standard Time. 

Joe Rao is a lecturer at the American 
Museum— Hayden Planetarium. 


Recipe for a Universe 

laws drive not 
only the 
niicroworld of 
atoms — and 
the forces 
linking them 
together — but 
the whole 
fabric of the 


By Jeremiah P. Ostriker 

Cosmology is a subject that no 
culture has done without. For 
most of Western history, plac- 
ing the observable world in the con- 
text of time and space has been a spec- 
ulative, philosophical endeavor — not a 
field of quantitative reasoning. 

When I received my Ph.D. in as- 
trophysics in 1 964, some aspects of the 
subject had entered the modern era, 
but the flavor of speculative ideology 
was still strong. At that time, galaxies 
essentially defined the objects to be 
observed, and the properties to be dis- 
cussed were their number, their appar- 
ent brightness, their 
distance from us, and 
the velocity at which 
they were speeding 
away. Such information 
was combined and ma- 
nipulated to answer two questions 
raised by Einstein's general theory of 
relativity: What is the age of the uni- 
verse (follo\\'ing the big bang)? Will 
the universe expand forever, or will it 
stop expanding, reverse course, and 

Just Six Numbers: The 
Deep Forces That Shape 
the Universe, (>)• Martin 

Rccs. Bask Books /Persetis; S21; 
304 pp. 

Since that time, our knowledge has 
grown enormously, as has the com- 
plexity of the questions. The features of 
big bang cosmology have been so well 
confirmed, both by the distribution ot 
the Hght chemical elements cooked up 
in that early furnace and by direct 
measurements of cosmic background 
radiation, that the majority ot cosmol- 
ogists have no doubt about the basic 
accuracy of the model. 

But now we recognize that the 
galaxies are not eternal and unchanging 
and that to use them in empirical stud- 
ies, we need to understand their forma- 
tion and evolution. We 
also know that ten 
times more dark matter 
of a mysterious nature 
exists than does normal 
nratter. which is detect- 
able by the radiation it emits or absorbs. 
What we know as normal matter (on 
the basis of measured gravitational 
forces) accounts for perhaps only 10 
percent of what's out there. 

Martin Rees, England's astronomer 
royal, addresses these questions at the 

level of fundamental physics. Starting 
with Earth, other Solar System planets, 
and nearby stars, he carries us through 
our galaxy and out into the cosmos on 
its grandest scale. Although this is a 
brief clear, wise, and witty book, it is 
challenging to read. Translating the fun- 
damental laws ot physics into accessible 
language, Rees explains why the chem- 
istry necessary for life is possible; why 
nuclear-powered stars can exist in equi- 
librium; why structure developed at all 
(as opposed to the universe's evolving in 
a featureless void); and W'hy there may 
exist a repulsive force (unlike gravity', 
which makes all matter attract all other 
matter) that causes the universe to ex- 
pand at an ever accelerating rate. Rees 
does not directly address the so-called 
anthropic principle — that the universe 
had to be just so to allow complex life 
to form — but leaves it for the reader to 
discover (or rediscover) unaided. 

The stoiy is presented in terms of 
dimensionless numbers (those whose 
values are independent of the units 
used). One of these is pi, familiar to us 
all as the ratio of the circumterence ot a 
circle to its diameter. Another is 
e/GMg' — the ratio of the electrostatic 
forces pushing apart r\vo electrons to 
the gravitational forces pulling them to- 
gether — one of the famous "bia; num- 
bers" of phvsics, rouglily ten followed 
by forrs' zeroes. (Gravit%-, although it 
dominates at cosmic scales, is extraordi- 
narily weak compared \vith atomic 
forces.) Rees shows, without using any 
mathematics, how such numbers deter- 
mine the structure ot our universe. 

It is all here, with the tale told — for 
once — by someone who understands 
the stor\'. 

Jcmiiiali P. Ostrikei; a professor of astro- 
physics and proi'ost at Princeton University, 
is a trustee of the American Miiseiini of 
Xatiiral History. 

Racing To 
Tne Moon. 

Instinct and moonlight guide them to the 
ocean. For newborn sea turtles, it is a run 
for survival. They must quickly 
move past predators to the safety 
of deep water. That's why people working 
in partnership on Thevenard Island conceal 
the light from their oil and gas operations. 
So the ttirtles won't be drawn off-course. 
Which helps protect a threatened species by 
making certain the only light visible is the 
one that leads home. 


People Do. 







■■ t 

20 NATURAL SELECTIONS natural history 2/oo 


One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos, by Neil de Grasse 

Tyson, Charles Liu, and Robert Irion (Joseph Henry Press, 

2000; $40; 217 pp.; illus.) 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^HirikflHiiyt-iffi»'' : . . ., 


A Mars-size impactor smacks .'m'JC.'v'*^ -v^ 


INh ' '- ' 

the embryonic Earth, heating '^j^Sii^^K 


and deforming both bodies ^H^E^ 


and spewing ejecta into space. ^^HBh 


The Moon's Violent Birth 

About 4.5 billion years ago, somewhere between the 


present orbits of Earth and Mars, a planet about the 

....k^ai^^:. ■ ti^^KSSSm 

size of Mars probably struck the embryonic Earth in a 

collision that ultimately created Earth's only satellite. 

Known as the giant impact theory, this scenario largely 

■ ^^^H^^^^fe?,^'^ v^0 

accounts for the particular chemical composition of 


both bodies, explaining, for instance, why the Moon has 

The impactor * "'^-^SiS^^^ 

only a tiny metallic core and Earth has a considerable 

rebounds and hits 

one. It also accounts for the amount of angular 

Earth again. Its metallic core gets 
incorporated into Earth's core. 

momentum in the Earth-Moon system. (Angular 
momentum is the measure of motion of objects in 

curved paths. In this case, it means the spin of each 


body plus the orbital motion of the Moon around 


Earth.) As shown here, the young Earth was probably 

■j^' -j^^~ *''"^dPjjtojEJBi 

almost completely molten during this process. 

An orbiting ring of ^^P^ 

^ j^^^. 

very hot ejecta, very little 


of it metallic, eventually cools and 

condenses into discrete particles. 

™*«,E^^"^ „a. 

^^^HBS|B^H^9Q^V • 

As particles accrete, ^^RBB^^ 

.^^^^^^^^^^^^HHB ' 

they sweep up the 


disk of ejecta. Within about ten 


years, the largest body sweeps 

I^^^^K . 

up the remaining debris to become our Moon. 

■ 'wKB/Km 

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N A T U R A L SELECTIONS natural history 2/00 


Cardano's Cosmos: The Worlds and 
Works of a Renaissance Astrologer, 

by Aiitlwiiy Graftcu (Hanwd University 
Press, 2000; $35; 284 pp.; illns.) 
In this eloquent study of a sixteenth-cen- 
tury astrologer who combined mathemat- 
ics, astronomy, and medicme in counsehng 
people at every level of society, Princeton 
University historian Grafton offers readers 
both a "microscopic investigation of an in- 
dividual's mind and a wide-angled survey 
of the millennial intellectual traditions 
which nourished it." 

Captured by Aliens: The Search for 
Life and Truth in a Very Large Uni- 
verse, by Joel Achenbach (Simon and Scluis- 
ter, 1999; $25; 415 pp.; illns.) 
In his lively saga of the search for hard evi- 
dence of extraterrestrial life, Washington 
Post staff writer Achenbach has inter- 
viewed such disparate characters as the late 
Carl Sagan, NASA chief Dan Goldin, and 
lounge singer Henry Harris. Reporting on 
both way-out theories and scientific dis- 
coveries, the author remains funny, fair- 
minded, and firmly planted on Earth. 

Here Be Dragons: The Scientific 
Quest for Extraterrestrial Life, by 

Dai'id I'V Koerner and Simon Lclay (O.xford 
University Press, 2000; $27.50; 256pp.) ' 
The authors — a planetary scientist and a 
neuroanatomist — describe the exciting, 
provocative work ot such scientists as 
NASA Ames Research Center's Chris 
McKay, who is investigating cold, dry en- 
vironments that might offer clues to hfe 
in the cosmos, and Carnegie Mellon Uni- 
versity's Hans Moravec, a "roboticist, fu- 
turologist, and general out-of-the-box 
thinker." Whoever predicted the end of 
science was dead wrong. 

Journey Beyond Selene: Remarkable 
Expeditions Past Our Moon and to 
the Ends of the Solar System, by Jef- 
frey Kluger (Simon and Schuster, 1999; $26; 
'315 pp.) 

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), 
the leading U.S. center for the unmanned 
exploration of space, is the setting for tales 
of scientists' adventures with technology. 
Time magazine writer Kluger, in the 
course of chronichng JPL's milestones, be- 
came convinced that sooner or later we 
were going to find Hfe out there. 

Pristine & Private Isiand Getaway 

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The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island 

Exclusive 10,000-acre Georgia island paradise, 7-mile shell-strewn 
undeveloped beach, recreational activities, gourmet regional cuisine and 
gracious accommodations await just 30 guests. Birding, boating, hiking, 
bicycling, canoeing, horseback riding and interpretive programs offer 
unique ways to explore this coastal wilderness. All-inclusive rates are 
$325 -S900 per night. Or, enjoy the Island exclusively from $4,400. 

888-733-5774 • 912-638-7472 • 

I The Invisible Universe, by David M 

! (Bnlfinch Press /Little, Brown, 1999; $60, 
I pp.;illus.) ^ 

The Runaway Universe: The Race to 
Find the Future of the Cosmos, by 

Donald Goldsmith (Perseus/Helix, 2000; 

Amid the avalanche of late-twentieth-cen- 
tury discoveries in astronomy and astro- 
physics. Goldsmith traces the key steps that 
led to the vindication of Einstein's nonzero 
"cosmological constant" and the further 
recognition that the universe appears to be 
expanding at an accelerating pace. 

The Search for Life on Mars, by Mal- 
colm Walter (Perseus /Helix, 1999; $25; 170 
pp.; illns.) 

The more we investigate Earth's earUest 
Ufe forms, the more we recogmze the sim- 
ilarities between our planet and Mars. 
Walter, an AustraHan paleobiologist, astro- 
biologist, and longtime NASA adviser, sur- 
veys the strategies and possible results of 
fliture explorations of the red planet. 

The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adven- 
tures of an Urban Astrophysicist, by 

Nell de Grasse Tyson (Donbleday 2000; 
$23.95; 194 pp) 

A visit to New York's Hayden Planetar- 
ium gave an African American youngster 
from the Bronx the idea of being an as- 
trophysicist when he grew up. So he be- 
came one — and, at thirty-eight, the 
youngest-ever director of that same 

The books mentioned in "Natural Selec- 
tions" are usually available from the Mu- 
seum Shop of the American Museum of 
Natural History, (212) 769-5150. 

By Robert Anderson 


Water has been found in tlic soils ot 
the polar craters of the Moon. One of 
the missions of tiie tailed Mars Polar 
Lauder was to look tor sii^ns ot frozen 
water in the soil of the red planet. In- 
vestigating the watery, methane-rich 
atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan 
and the suspected lit^uid ocean beneath 
the icy surface of Jupiter's moon Eu- 
ropa is a major goal tor future explo- 
ration. Wiiter being one of the prereq- 
uisites tor lite, these efforts are part ot a 
larger astrobiological NASA mission to 
probe the origin and distribution of 
lite in the universe. 

A rather broad discipline, astrobiol- 
ogy is barely five years old, yet it has 
become the umbrella under which a 
great deal ot space science is con- 

diktCLl. In gel ,ni kle.i ol how iiiucli is 
encompassed by this branch of science, 
visit the Astrobiology Web (wwvv2 In addition to 
posting the latest research news from 
the field, the site has an impressive list- 
ing of astrobiolog^'-related articles and 
Web pages; subjects range from the first 
animals to leave Earth (canine cosmo- 
naut Laika and primate cosmonaut 
Ham) to terrafonnation (the engineer- 
ing of planetary environments) 

Life in Extreme Environments, for 
example, profiles a number of interesfing 
(and tenacious) organisms that could 
conceivably move between planetary 
systems on space voyages of a million 
years or more. I was intrigued by the su- 
perbacterium Dciiiococais radioitiiraiis (in 
the Radiation Tolerance section), dis- 
covered in a can of beef that went bad 
despite sterilizing radiation. It can appar- 
ently survive a radiation dose of 1 .5 mil- 
lion rads (about 3,000 times the level 
needed to kill most organisms — firom 

microbes to humans; .md has a knack for 
rapidly repairing its DNA. Another bug, 
Slrcptococcus mills (in the Life at Varied 
Pressures section), supposedly survived 
for almost three years on the Moon 
aboard Siirucyor 3 in the late 196()s. 

A related and perhaps broader sub- 
ject is astrochemistry, the study of the 
chemical reactions that lead to the evo- 
lution of life. How do inorganic mole- 
cules assemble to start life? And how 
easily does it happen? See NASA's as- 
trobiology site (astrobiology.arc.nasa 
.gov/indcx.cfm) for an overview of 
current research — from microbial mats 
to the complex organic molecules that 
form on comets. In the near future, this 
site will also have a section called Astro- 
biology for Kids, which will answer 
questions about how common life is 
among the stars and how rare Earth- 
hke planets reaUy are. 

Robert Anderson is a freelance science \iriter 
based in Los Angeles. 

Majestic Universe 

Views from Here To Infinity 
Serge Brunier 

The ultimate "vehicle" to explore the final frontier awaits you. Simply 
open the beautiful, oversized Majestic Universe. You will find more than 
200 vivid photographs that capture the majesty of the ever-expanding 
universe.. .and provide a glimpse into the very limits of space itself! 

1999 216 pp. 0-521-66307-5 Hardback $39.95 

Cosmic Wonders and Everyday Mysteries Revealed 

The Climate Revealed 

William Burroughs 

Weather is a great mystery, the inscrutable climate of planet Earth hides 
many secrets. This guide reveals them all! Plus, striking full-color 
photographs uncover the true character of individual climatic zones, 
fi-om the polar ice caps to the fiercest deserts. 
1999 192 pp. 0-521-77081-5 Hardback $39.95 





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Tliirty years ago, pcopk- were w.ilkiiii; on the moon. 
Back then, everyone .issiimed tliat Neil Armstrong's 
"one sni.ill step" tlie first on a great journey that 
woidd soon take us to Mars and the sateHites of Jupiter and 
Saturn. We had grand dreams of discovering other worlds, 
landing with our spaceships and tramping proudly over the 
ground. None of that happened. Instead, the emphasis 
shitted to unmanned vehicles, because they were able to go 
farther and see more than 
people could. And so we 
sat in front of our televi- 
sions watching Slar Tirh, 

trial life might flourish. Even as far away as Pluto, plants 
could be warm and cozy in greenhouses that had big mir- 
rors around them to collect sunlight. (The same plants that 
make use of biotechnolog)' to make the greenhouses could 
produce the mirrors as well.) Life, once it has made the big 
jump away from Earth, could adapt itself to take root almost 
anywhere, since its necessary ingredients — sunlight, a supply 
of common chemicals, and water — are found in abundance 

The Stuff of Dreams 

wnile our marvelous m- 
struments m space — the 
Hubble Space Telescope 
and the I i)y(!(,'tT and Galileo 
spacecraft — did the job of 
exploring tor us. In this 
manner, the dreams ot the 
[96t)s died and, with them, 
our vision of why we had 
wanted to explore space in 
the first place. 

Human nature has of- 
ten led us along this path 
of boom and bust. We 
dream great dreams, invest 
in great engineering pro- 
jects — enormous dams and 

nuclear power stations- ^^^j^ ^ l^j-^l^ j^^l ^-^.^^^^ technolo^v, humankind should 

and then let them die. But 1111 i-i-i 

each of these cycles leaves somcday DC able to generate biological systems on worlds with 

behind something of per- nO life of their OWn. 

manent value — a residue 

ot knowledge, a new science or industry, a stepping-stone 

toward the dreams of the next generation. 

Sooner or later, there will be new dreams ot the explo- 
ration ot the universe by humans. FultiUing these dreams 
will require new and drastically cheaper technologies, based 
on biology rather than on massive engineering. We will need 
inexpensive ways of traveling to new worlds and staying alive 
once we are there. Bioengineering and biotechnolog\' will 
allow us to grow new species of plants, microbes, and ani- 
mals adapted to living in harsh environments. The trick \\'ill 
be to breed plants that generate their own greenhouses to 
sustain warmth, moisture, and air. This kind of ecosystem 
could be created on Mars, Saturn, and places even farther 
trom the Sun. 

Such dreams make sense only tor worlds with no lite of 
their own. If we find Hte on Mars, tor example, we should 
leave the planet alone and move on to some of the billions of 
lifeless worlds where, with a little help tronr humans, terres- 

By Freeman J. Dyson 

throughout the universe. We will have to tread lightly. 
though, just as we must do on Earth, if \\e are not to destroy 
the newly created ecosystems. 

We are a restless species. After another century or t\\'o. 
when Hfe and human settlements have spread widely in 
space, we wiU dream again of giant engineering projects. 
Technologies based on resources drawn from all over the 
Solar System will make interstellar trips atiordable. The 
dream ot spreading life as we know it throughout the Galax\- 
might come true — unless, as the poet Robinson Jetiers 
\\arned. the day comes "when the earth \\'ill scratch herselt 
and smile and rub oif humanity." That future is also possible, 
if we behave tbolishly.The choice is ours. 

Freeman /. Dyson is professor eincritiis in the School of Xatural Sci- 
ences at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, Neu' Jersey. 
His latest book is The Sun. the Genome, and the Internet;Tools 
of Scientific Revolutions (Oxford University Press, 1999). 

28 THIS VIEW OF L IFE natural history 2/00 

What does the dreaded ''E' 

A reverie for the 
opening of the 
new Hayden 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

Evolution posed no terrors in 
the liberal constituency of 
New York City when I studied 
biology at Jamaica High School in 
1956. But our textbooks didn't utter 
the word either — a legacy of the 
statutes that had brought William Jen- 
nings Bryan and Clarence Darrow to 
legal blows at Tennessee's trial of John 
Scopes in 1925. The subject remained 
doubly hidden within my textbook — 
covered only in chapter 63 (of 66) and 
described in euphemism as "the hy- 
pothesis of racial development." 

The antievolution laws of the 
Scopes era, passed during the early 
1920s in several southern and border 
states, remained on the books until 
1968, when the Supreme Court de- 
clared them unconstitutional. The 
laws were never strictly enforced, but 
their existence cast a paU over Ameri- 
can education, as textbook publishers 
capitulated to produce "least common 
denominator" versions acceptable in 
all states — so schoolkids in New York 
got short shrift because the statutes of 
some distant states had labeled evolu- 
tion dangerous and unteachable. 

Ironically, at the very end of this 
millennium (I am writing this essay in 
late November 1999), demotions, 
warnings, and anathemas have again 
come into vogue in several regions ot 
our nation. The Kansas school board 

has reduced evolution, the central and 
unifying concept of the lite sciences, 
to an optional subject within the 
state's biology curriculum — an educa- 
tional ruling akin to stating that Eng- 
lish will still be taught but that gram- 
mar may henceforth be regarded as a 
peripheral frill, permitted but not 
mandated as a classroom subject. Two 

states now require that warning labels 
be pasted (literally) into all biology 
textbooks, alerting students that they 
might wish to consider alternatives to 
evolution (although no other well- 
documented scientific concept evokes 
similar caution). Finally, at least two 
states have retained all their Darwin- 
ian material in official pamphlets and 

word meaUy anyway: 


cinrKuLi but li,i\c ivpl.ucd the 
dreaded "c" word witli .1 circLinilocu- 
tion, thus reviving tlic old strategy of 
my high school text. 

As our fight for good (and politi- 
cally untrainnieled) public education 
in science must include our forceflil 
defense of a key word — for inquisitors 
have always understood that an idea 

can be extinguished most effectively by 
suppressing all memory of a defining 
word or an inspirational person — we 
might consider an interesting historical 
irony that, properly elucidated, might 
even aid us in our batde. We must not 
compromise our showcasing of the "e" 
word, for we give up the game before 
we start it we grant our opponents 

control over basic terms. But we should 
also note that Darwin himself never 
used the word "evolution" in his 
epochal book of 1859. In Oriiiin of 
Species, he calls this fiandamental bio- 
logical process "descent with modifica- 
tion." Darwin, needless to say, did not 
shun "evolution" from motives of fear, 
conciliation, or political savvy but 
rather tor an opposite and principled 
reason that can help us appreciate the 
depth of the intellectual revolution that 
he inspired and some of the reasons 
(understandable if indefensible) for the 
persistent public unease. 

Pre-Darwinian terminology for 
evolution — a widely discussed, if un- 
orthodox, view ot lite in early nine- 
teenth-century biology — generally 
used such names as transformation, 
transmutation, or the development 
hypothesis. In choosing a label for his 
own, very different account ot ge- 
nealogical change, Darwin would 
never have considered "evolution" as a 
descriptor, because that vernacular 
English word implied a set of conse- 
quences contrary to the most distinc- 
tive features of his proposed revolu- 
tionary mechanism of change. 

"Evolution," from the Latin crol- 
rciv, literally means "an unrolling" — 
and clearly implies an unfolding in 
time of a predictable or prepackaged 
sequence in an inherently progressive, 
or at least directional, manner (the 
"fiddlehead" of a fern unrolls and ex- 
pands to bring foith the adult plant — 
a true evolution ot pretormed parts). 
The Oxford English Dicrioiuny traces 
the word "evolution" to seventeenth- 
century English poetry. Here the 
word's key meaning — the secjuential 
exposure ot prepackaged potential — 
inspired the first recorded usages in 
our language. For example, Henry 

30 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 2/00 

More (1614-87), the British philoso- 
pher responsible for several of the sev- 
enteenth-century citations in the 
OED entry, stated in 1664,"! have not 
yet evolved all the intanghng supersti- 
tions that may be wrapt up." 

The few pre-Darwinian English 
citations of genealogical change as 
"evolution" all employ the word as a 
synonym for predictable progress. For 
example, in describing Lamarck's the- 
ory for British readers (in the second 
volume of his Principles of Geology, 
1832), Charles LyeU generally uses the 
neutral term "transmutation" — except 
in one passage, where he wishes to 
highlight a claim for progress: "The 
testacea of the ocean existed first, until 
some of them by gradual evolution 
were improved into those inhabiting 
the land." 

Although the word "evolution" 
does not appear in the first edition of 
Origin of Species, Darwin does use the 
verbal form "evolved," clearly in the 
vernacular sense and in an especially 
crucial spot: the very last word of the 
book! Most students have failed to ap- 
preciate the incisive and intended 
"gotcha" of these closing Unes, which 
have generally been read as a poetic 
reverie, a harmless linguistic flourish 
essentially devoid of content, however 
rich in imageiy In fact, the canny Dar- 
win used this maximally effective loca- 
tion to make a teUing point about the 
absolute glory and comparative impor- 
tance of natural history as a calling. 

We usually regard planetary phys- 
ics as the paragon of rigorous science, 
while dismissing natural history as a 
Lightweight exercise in duU, descrip- 
tive cataloging that any person with 
sufficient patience might accomphsh. 
But Darwin, in his closing passage, 
identified the primaiy phenomenon 
of planetary physics as a duU and sim- 
ple cycling to nowhere, in sharp con- 
trast with life's history, depicted as a 
dynamic and upwardly growing tree. 
The Earth reiwlues in uninteresting 
sameness, but Ufe evolves by unfolding 

its potential for ever expanding diver- 
sity along admittedly unpredictable, 
but wonderfully various, branchings: 

Mtilst this planet has gone cycling on 
according to the fixed law of gravity, 
from so simple a beginning endless forms 
most beautiful and most wondeful have 
been, and are being, evolved. 

But Darwin could not have de- 
scribed the process regulated by his 
mechanism of natural selection as 
"evolution" in the vernacular mean- 
ing then conveyed by the word. For 
the mechanism of natural selection 
yields only increasing adaptation to 

win, the label "evolution," an ordi- 
nary EngUsh word for sequences of 
predictable and directional unfolding. 
We must then, and obviously, ask how 
"evolution" achieved its coup in be- 
coming the name for Darwin's pro- 
cess — a takeover so complete that the 
word has now almost (but not quite, 
as we shall soon see) lost its original 
English meaning of "unfolding" and 
has transmuted (or should we say 
"evolved"?) into an effective synonym 
for biological change through time. 

This interesting shift, despite Dar- 
win's avjn reticence, occurred pri- 
marily because a great majority of his 
contemporaries, while granting the 

VVq must forcefully defend the key word 
' 'evolution,' ' for inquisitors have always 
understood that an idea can be extinguished 
by suppressing a defining word. 

changing local environments, not pre- 
dictable progress in the usual sense of 
cosmic or general betterment ex- 
pressed as growing complexity, aug- 
mented mentality, or whatever. In 
Dai"win's causal world, an anatomi- 
cally degenerate parasite, reduced to a 
formless clump of feeding and repro- 
ductive cells within the body of a 
host, may be just as well adapted to its 
surroundings, and just as well en- 
dowed with prospects for evolution- 
ary persistence, as is the most intricate 
creature, exquisitely adapted m all 
parts to a complex and dangerous ex- 
ternal environment. Moreover, since 
natural selection can adapt organisms 
only to local circumstances, and since 
local circumstances change in an ef- 
fectively random manner through ge- 
ological time, the pathways of adaptive 
evolution cannot be predicted. 

Thus, on these two fundamental 
grounds — lack of inherent direction- 
ality and lack of predictability — the 
process regulated by natural selection 
could scarcely have suggested, to Dar- 

overwhelming evidence for evolu- 
tion's factuality, could not accept Dar- 
win's radical views about the causes 
and patterns of biological change. 
Most important, they could not bear 
to surrender the comforting and tra- 
ditional view that human conscious- 
ness must represent a predictable (if 
not a divinely intended) summit of bi- 
ological existence. If scientific discov- 
eries enjoined an evolutionary reading 
of human superiority, then one must 
bow to the evidence. But Darwin's 
contemporaries (and many people 
today as well) would not surrender 
their traditional view of human dom- 
ination, and therefore could concep- 
tualize genealogical transmutation 
only as a process defined by pre- 
dictable progress toward a human 
acme — in short, as a process well de- 
scribed by the term "evolution" in its 
vernacular meaning of "unfolding an 
inherent potential." 

Herbert Spencer's progressivist 
view of natural change probably ex- 
erted the greatest influence in estab- 



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lishing "evolution" as the general 
name for Darwin's process, for 
Spencer held a dominating status as 
Victorian pundit and grand panjan- 
drum of nearly everything concep- 
tual. In any case, Darwin had too 
many other fish to fry and didn't 
choose to fight a battle about words 
rather than things. He felt confident 
that his views would eventually pre- 
vail, even over the contrary etymology 
of a word imposed upon his process 
by popular wiU. (He knew, after all, 
that meanings of words can transmute 
within new climates of immediate 
utiHty.just as species transform under 
new local environments of life and 
ecology!) Darwin never used the "e" 

suspected a basic biological determin- 
ism behind our opposite choices. Carl 
was tail and looked up toward the 
heavens; I am shorter than average and 
tend to look down at the 

My essays may be known for their 
tactic of selecting odd Uttle tidbits as 
illustrations of general themes. But 
why, to mark the reopening of the 
Hayden Planetarium, would I high- 
Hght such a quirky and apparently ir- 
relevant subject as the odyssey of the 
term "evolution" in scientific, and pri- 
marily biological, use — thus seeming, 
once again, to reject the cosmos in 
favor of the dinosaurs? Method does 
inhere in my apparent madness 


'arwin himself never uses the word 
"evolution" in Origin of Species. He calls the 
process "descent with modification." 

word extensively in his writings, but 
he did capitulate to a developing con- 
sensus by referring to his process as 
evolution for the first time in Descent 
of Man, pubHshed m 1871. (Still, Dar- 
win never used the word "evolution" 
in the title of any book — and he 
chose, in his book on human history, 
to emphasize the genealogical "de- 
scent" of our species, not our "ascent" 
to higher levels of consciousness.) 

When I was a young boy, growing 
up on the streets of New York City, 
the American Museum of Natural 
History became my second home and 
inspiration. I loved two exhibits most 
of all — the Tyraunosaiinis skeleton on 
the fourth iloor and the star show at 
the adjacent Hayden Planetarium. I 
juggled these two passions for many 
years and eventually became a paleon- 
tologist; Carl Sagan, my near-contem- 
porary from the neighboring never- 
land of Brooklyn (I grew up in 
Queens) weighed the same two inter- 
ests in the same building but opted for 
astronomy as a calling. (I have always 

(whether or not I succeed in convey- 
ing this reasoning to my readers) . I am 
writing about the term "evolution" in 
the domain I know in order to expli- 
cate its strikingly different meaning in 
the profession that I put aside but still 
love avocationaUy. A discussion of the 
contrasts between biological evolution 
and cosmological evolution might 
offer some utility as a commentary 
about alternative worldviews and as a 
reminder that many supposed debates 
in science arise from confusion en- 
gendered by differing uses of words 
and not from deep conceptual mud- 
dles about the nature of things. 

Interdisciplinary unification repre- 
sents a grand and worthy goal of intel- 
lectual life, but greater understanding 
can often be won by principled sepa- 
ration and mutual respect, based on 
clear definitions and distinctions 
among truly disparate processes, rather 
than by false unions forged with su- 
perficial similarities and papered over 
by a common terminology. In our un- 
derstandable desire to unify the sci- 

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34 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 2/oo 

ences of temporal change, we have too 
often followed the Procrustean strat- 
egy of enforcing a common set of 
causes and explanations upon the his- 
tory of a species and the life of a star — 
partly, at least, for the very bad reason 
that both professions use the term 
"evolution" to denote change through 
time. In this case, the fundamental dif- 
ferences trump the superficial similari- 
ties — and true unity will be achieved 
only when we acknowledge the dis- 
parate substrates that, taken together, 
probe the range of possibilities for the- 
ories of historical order. 

The Darwinian principle of nat- 
ural selection yields temporal 
change — evolution in the biological 

when round balls roll down smooth 

To Olustrate the peculiar properties 
of variational theories hke Darwin's in 
an obviously caricatured, but not in- 
accurate, description: Suppose that a 
population of elephants inhabits 
Siberia during a warm interval before 
the advance of an ice sheet. The ele- 
phants vary, at random and in all di- 
rections, in their amount of body hair. 
As the ice advances and local condi- 
tions become colder, elephants with 
more hair will tend to cope better, by 
the sheer good fortune of their supe- 
rior adaptation to changing cli- 
mates — and they will leave more sur- 
viving offspring on average. (This 

KKhilst this planet has gone cycling on according to 
the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning 
endless forms inost beautifril and most wonderfrd 
have been, and are being, evolved." — Charles Darwin 

definition — by the twofold process of 
producing copious and undirected 
variation within a population and 
then passing along only a biased (se- 
lected) portion of this variation to the 
next generation. In this manner, the 
variation within a population at any 
moment can be converted into differ- 
ences in mean values (average size, av- 
erage braininess) among successive 
populations through time. For this 
fundamental reason, we call such the- 
ories of change variational as opposed 
to the more conventional, and more 
direct, models of transformational 
change imposed by natural laws that 
mandate a particular trajectory based 
on inherent (and therefore pre- 
dictable) properties of substances and 
environments. (A ball rolling down an 
inclined plane does not reach the bot- 
tom because selection has favored the 
differential propagation of moving 
versus stable elements of its totality 
but because gravity dictates this result 

differential reproductive success must 
be conceived as broadly statistical and 
not guaranteed in every case: in any 
generation, the hairiest elephant of all 
may fall into a crevasse and die.) Be- 
cause offspring inherit their parents' 
degree of hairiness, the next genera- 
tion will contain a higher proportion 
of more densely clad elephants (who 
will continue to be favored by natural 
selection as the climate becomes still 
colder). This process of increasing av- 
erage hairiness may continue for 
many generations, leading to the evo- 
lution of woolly mammoths. 

This little fable can help us under- 
stand how peculiar and how contrary 
to all traditions of Western thought 
and explanation the Darwinian the- 
ory of evolution, and variational the- 
ories of historical change in general, 
must sound to the common ear. All 
the odd and fascinating properties of j 
Darwinian evolution — the sensible 
and explainable but quite unpre- 

36 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 2/00 

dictable nature of the outcome (de- 
pendent upon complex and contin- 
gent changes in local environments), 
the nonprogressive character of the 
alteration (adaptive only to these un- 
predictable local circumstances and 
not inevitably building a "better" ele- 
phant in any cosmic or general 
sense) — flow from the variational 
basis of natural selection. 

Transformational theories work in 
a much simpler and more direct man- 
ner. If I want to go from A to B, I will 
have so much less conceptual (and ac- 
tual) trouble if I can postulate a mech- 
anism that will just push me there di- 
rectly than if I must rely upon the 

meaning to our lives cannot be ac- 
complished by scientific study in any 
case, then Darwin's variational mecha- 
nism will no longer seem threatening 
and may even become liberating in 
teaching us to look within ourselves 
for answers to these questions and to 
abandon a chimerical search for the 
purpose of our lives, and for the 
source of our ethical values, in the ex- 
ternal workings of nature.) 

These difficulties in grasping Dar- 
win's great insight became exacerbated 
when our Victorian forebears made 
their unfortunate choice of a defining 
word — "evolution" — with its vernac- 
ular meaning of "directed unfolding." 

IVIwly people cling to the comforting view 
that human consciousness must represent a 
predictable (if not a divinely intended) summit 
of biological existence. 

selection of "a few good men" from a 
random cloud of variation about 
point A, then constitute a new gener- 
ation around an average point one 
step closer to B, then generate a new 
cloud of random variation about this 
new point, then select "a few good 
men" once again from this new 
array — and then repeat this process 
over and over until I finally reach B. 

When one adds the oddity of vari- 
ational theories in general to our 
strong cultural and psychological re- 
sistance against their application to 
our own evolutionary origin (as an 
unpredictable and not necessary pro- 
gressive little twig on hfe's luxuriant 
tree), then we can better understand 
why Darwin's revolution surpassed all 
other scientific discoveries in refor- 
matory power and why so many 
people still fail to understand, and 
may even actively resist, its truly liber- 
ating content. (I must leave the issue 
of liberation for another time, but 
once we recognize that the specifica- 
tion of morals and the search for a 

We would not face this additional 
problem today if "evolution" had un- 
dergone a complete transformation to 
become a strict and exclusive defini- 
tion of biological change — with ear- 
lier and etymologically more appro- 
priate usages then abandoned and 
forgotten. But important words rarely 
undergo such a clean switch of mean- 
ing, and "evolution" stiU maintains its 
original definition of "predictable un- 
folding" in several nonbiological disci- 
plines — including astronomy. 

When astronomers talk about the 
evolution of a star, they clearly do not 
have a variational theory like Darwin's 
in mind. Stars do not change through 
time because mama and papa stars 
generate broods of varying daughter 
stars, followed by the diflierential sur- 
vival of daughters best adapted to 
their particular region of the cosmos. 
Rather, theories of stellar "evolution" 
could not be more relentlessly trans- 
formational in positing a definite and 
predictable sequence of changes un- 
folding as simple consequences of 

physical laws. (No biological process 
operates in exactly the same manner, 
but the life cycle of an organism cer- 
tainly works better than the evolution 
of a species as a source of analogy.) 

Ironically, astronomy undeniably 
trumps biology in faithfulness to the 
etymology and the vernacular defini- 
tion of "evolution" — even though 
the term now holds far wider cur- 
rency under the radically altered defi- 
nition of the biological sciences. In 
fact, astronomers have been so true to 
the original definition that they con- 
fine "evolution" to historical se- 
quences of predictable unfolding and 
resolutely shun the word when de- 
scribing cosmic changes' exhibiting 
the key features of biological evolu- 
tion — unpredictability and lack of in- 
herent directionality. 

As an illustration of this astronom- 
ical usage, consider the most standard 
and conventional of all sources — the 
Encyclopaedia Brhannica article "Stars 
and Star Clusters" (15th edition, 1990 
printing). The section entitled "Star 
Formation and Evolution" begins by 
analogizing stellar "evolution" to a 
preprogrammed life cycle, with the 
degree of evolution defined as the 
position along the predictable trajec- 

Tlnouglwut the Milky Way Galaxy 
. . . astronomers have discovered stars 
that are well evolved or even 
approaching^ extinction, or both, as 
well as occasional stars that must he 
very young or still in the process of 
formation. Evolutionary effects on 
these stars are not negligible. 

The fully predictable and linear se- 
quence of stages in a stellar lifetime 
(evolution, to astronomers) records 
the consequences of a defining physi- 
cal process in the construction and 
history of stars: the conversion of mass 
to energy by nuclear reactions deep 
within stars, leading to the transfor- 
mation of hydrogen into helium. 








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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 2/00 

Tlie spread of hiniiiiosities and colors 
of stars u'itliiii tlie main sequence can 
be understood as a consequence oj 
ei'olutioii. . . .As the stars evolve, they 
adjust to the increase in the hehum- 
to-hydrogen ratio in their cores. . . . 
Wlien the core fuel is exhausted, the 
internal structure of the star changes 
rapidly; it quickly leaves the main 
sequence and moves towards the 
region of giants and supergiants. 

The same basic sequence unfolds 
through stellar lives, but the rate of 
change (evolution, to astronomers) 
varies as a predictable consequence of 
differences in mass: 

Like the rate of formation of a star, 
the subsequent rate of evolution on the 
main sequence is proportional to the 
mass of the star; the greater the mass, 
the more rapid the evolution. 

More complex factors may deter- 
mine variation in some stages of the 
hfe cycle, but the basic directionahty 
(evolution, to astronomers) does not 
alter, and predictability from natural 
law remains precise and complete: 

The great spread in luminosities and 
colors of giant, supergiant, and 
subgiant stars is also understood to 
result from evolutionary events. When 
a star leaves the main sequence, its 
future evolution is precisely 
determined by its mass, rate of rotation 
(or angular momentum), chemical 
composition, and whether or not it is a 
member of a close binary system. 

In the most revealing verbal clue of 
all, the discourse of this particular sci- 
entific culture seems to shun the word 
"evolution" when historical se- 
quences become too meandering, too 
nondirectional, or too complex to ex- 
plain as simple consequences of con- 
trolling laws — even though the end 
result may be markedly different from 
the beginning state, thus illustrating 

significant change through time. For 
example, the same Britannica article on 
stellar evolution notes that one can 
often reach conclusions about the ori- 
gin of a star or a planet from the rela- 
tive abundance of chemical elements 
in its present composition. 

Earth, however, has become so 
modified during its geological history 
that we cannot use this inferential 
method to reconstruct the initial state 
of our own planet. Because the cur- 
rent configuration of Earth's surface 
developed through complex contin- 
gencies and could not have been pre- 
dicted from simple laws, this style of 
change apparently does not rank as 
evolution — but only, in astronomical 
parlance, as being "affected": 

Hie relative abundances of the 
chemical elements provide significant 
clues regarding their origin. Tlie 
Earth's crust has been affected severely 
by erosion, fractionation, and other 
geologic events, so that its present 
varied composition offers few clues as 
to its early stages. 

I don't mention these differences 
to lament, to complain, or to criticize 
astronomers in any way. After all, their 
use of"evolution" remains more faith- 
ful to etymology and the original 
EngHsh definition, whereas our Dar- 
winian reconstruction has virtually re- 
versed the original meaning. In this 
case, since neither side wlU or should 
give up its understanding of "evolu- 
tion" (astronomers because they have 
retained an original and etymologi- 
cally correct meaning, and evolution- 
ists because their redefinition ex- 
presses the very heart of their central 
and revolutionary concept of Hfe 's his- 
tory), our best solution Hes simply in |: 
exposing the legitimate differences 
and explaining the good reasons be- 
hind the disparity in usage. 

In this way, at least, we may avoid 
confusion and also the special frustra- 
tion generated when prolonged wran- 

glcs arisi- hoin iniMiiulcrst.iii(.lni^s ol scnsi.' .iial will therefore impose 

words r.ither than Irom ij;eiiiiiiie A\s ihis more detiiimoii ii|inii 

piites about tilings and causes in na- the history of lite it we do not clearly 

ture. We evolutionary biologists must explain the logic, the evidence, and 

remain especially sensitive to this the sheer fascination of our challeng- 

issue, because we still face consider- ing conclusion. 

yVc now know that certain mesozoans 
are descended from more complex animals 
and have become simplified by adaptation to 
their parasitic lifestyle. 

able opposition, based on conven- 
tional hopes and fears, to our insis- 
tence that life evolves in unpredictable 
directions, with no inherent goal. 
Since astronomical evolution upholds 
both contrary positions — predictabil- 
ity and directionality — evolutionary 
biologists need to emphasize their 
own distinctive meaning, especially 
since the general public feels much 
more comfortable with the astronom- 

Two studies published within the 
past month led me to this topic, be- 
cause each discovery confirms the 
biological, variational, and Darwinian 
"take" on evolution while also, 
and quite explicitly, reflating a previ- 
ous, transformational interpretation — 
rooted in our culturally established 
prejudices for the more comforting, 
astronomical view — that had blocked 
our understanding and skewed our 

thoughts about an nnportant episode 
111 life's history: 

I . Vertebrates "all the way down. " In 
one of the most crucial and enigmatic 
episodes in the history of life — and a 
challenge to the older, more congenial 
idea that life has progressed in a basi- 
cally stately, linear manner through the 
ages — nearly all animal phyla made 
their first appearance in the fossil 
record at essentially the same time, an 
interval of some 5 million years (about 
525 million to 530 million years ago) 
called the Cambrian explosion. (Geo- 
logical firecrackers have long fuses 
when measured by the inappropriate 
scale of human time.) Only one major 
phylum with prominent and fossiliz- 
able hard parts did not appear in this 
incident or during the Cambrian pe- 
riod at aU — the Br^'ozoa, a group of 
colonial marine organisms unknown 
to most nonspecialists today (although 
still relatively common in shallow 
oceanic waters) but prominent in the 



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early fossil record of animal life. 

One other group, until last month, 
also had no record within the Cam- 
brian explosion, although late Cam- 
brian representatives (well after the 
explosion itself) have been known for 
some time. Whereas popular texts 
have virtually ignored the Bryozoa, 
the absence of this other group has 
been prominently showcased and pro- 
claimed highly significant. No verte- 
brates had ever been recovered from 
deposits of the Cambrian explosion, 
although close relatives within our 
phylum (the Chordata), if not techni- 
cally vertebrates, had been collected 
(the Chordata includes three major 
subgroups: the tunicates, Amphioxus 
and its relatives, and the vertebrates 
proper) . 

This absence of vertebrates from 
strata bearing nearly all other fossiliz- 
able animal phyla provided a strong ray 
of hope for people who wished to 
view our own group as "higher" or 
more evolved in a predictable direc- 
tion. If evolution impHes linear pro- 
gression, then later is better — and 
uniquely later (or almost uniquely, 
given those pesky bryozoans) can only 
enhance the distinction. But the No- 
vember 4, 1999, issue of Nature in- 
cludes a persuasive article ("Lower 
Cambrian Vertebrates from South 
China," by D-G. Shu, H-L. Luo, S. 
Conway Morris, X-L. Zhang, S-X. 
Hu, L. Chen,J. Han, M. Zhu,Y. Li, and 
L-Z. Chen) reporting the discovery of 
two vertebrate genera within the 
Lower Cambrian Chengjiang forma- 
tion of southern China, right within 
the temporal heart of the Cambrian 
explosion. (The Burgess Shale of west- 
ern Canada, the celebrated site for 
most previous knowledge of early | 
Cambrian animals, postdates the actual 
explosion by several milHon years. The 
recently discovered Chengjiang fauna, 
with equally exquisite preservation of 
soft anatomy, has been yielding com- 
parable or even greater treasures for 
more than a decade. See "On Embryos 



and Ancestors," Naiiinil Hi.<tory, 
July-August lyys.) 

These two creatures — each only 
an inch or so in length and lacking 
both jaws and a backbone and in fact 
possessing no bony skeleton .it .ill — 
might not strike a casual student as 
worthy of inclusion within our ex- 

openings .ind then inowd forward to 
surround the mouth. All early fishes — 
and two modern survivors of this ini- 
tial radiation, the lampreys and the 
hagfishes — lacked jaws. 

The two Chengjiang genera pos- 
sess all the defining features of verte- 
brates: the stiff dorsal supporting rod, 


^e must contrast the 2;ood fortune of our own 
evolution with the inexorable evolution of our 
nurturing Sun toward a spectacular cliniax that might 
make our fiirther evolution impossible. 

alted Hneage. But these features, how- 
ever much they may command our 
present focus, arose later in the history 
of vertebrates and do not enter the 
central and inclusive taxonomic defi- 
nition of our group. The vertebrate 
jaw, for example, evolved trom hard 
parts that originally fortified the gill 

or notochord (subsec]uently lost in 
adults after the vertebral column 
evolved); the arrangement of flank 
musculature in a series of zigzag ele- 
ments from front to back; the set of 
paired openings piercing the phar- 
ynx (operating primarily as respira- 
tory gills in later fishes but used 

mostly for filter feeding in ancestral 
vertebrates). In fact, the best recon- 
struction of branching order on the 
vertebrate tree places the origin of 
these two new genera after the in- 
ferred ancestors of modern hagfishes 
but before the presumed forebears of 
lampreys. It this interence holds, then 
vertebrates already existed in sub- 
stantial diversity within the Cam- 
brian explosion. In any case, we now 
have two distinct and concrete ex- 
amples of vertebrates "all the way 
down" — that is, in the very same 
strata that include the first known 
fossils of nearly all phyla of modern 
multicellular animals. We vertebrates 
do not stand higher and later than 
our invertebrate cousins, for all "ad- 
vanced" animal phyla made their first 
appearance in the fossil record 
at essentially the same time. The 
vaunted complexity of vertebrates 
did not require a special delay to ac- 
commodate a slow series ot progres- 

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Copyright © Natural History Magazine, 1999 

did not require a special delay to ac- 
commodate a slow series of progres- 
sive steps, predictable from the gen- 
eral principles of evolution. 

2. An ultimate parasite, or "how are 
the mighty fallen." The phyla of com- 
plex multicellular animals enjoy a col- 
lective designation as Metazoa (liter- 
ally, "higher animals"). Mobile, 
single-celled creatures bear the name 
Protozoa ("first animals" — actually a 
misnomer, since many of these crea- 
tures, in terms of genealogical branch- 
ing, rank as close to multicellular 
plants and fungi as to multicellular an- 
imals). In a verbal in-between stand 
the Mesozoa ("middle animals"). 
Many taxonomic and evolutionary 
schemes for the organization of life 
rank the Mesozoa by the Hteral impli- 
cation of their name — that is, as a per- 
sistently primitive group, intermediate 
between the single-celled and the 
multicellular animals and illustrating a 
necessary transitional step in a pro- 
gressivist reading of Ufe s history. 

But the Mesozoa have always been 
viewed as enigmatic, primarily be- 
cause they hve as parasites within truly 
multicellular animals, and parasites 
often adapt to their protected sur- 
roundings by evolving an extremely 
simplified anatomy, sometimes little 
more than a glob of absorptive and re- 
productive tissue cocooned within the 
body of a host. Thus, the extreme 
simplicity of parasitic anatomy could 
represent the evolutionary degenera- 
tion of a complex, free-Hving ancestor 
rather than the maintenance of a 
primitive state. 

The major group of mesozoans, 
the Dicyemida, live as microscopic 
parasites in the renal organs of squid 
and octopuses. Their adult anatomy 
could hardly be simpler: a single axial 
cell (which generates the reproductive 
cells) in the center, enveloped by a 
single layer of ciliated outer cells 
(some ten to forty in number) ar- 
ranged in a spiral around the axial cell, 
except at the front end, where two 




the tissues of the host. 

The zoological status of the di- 
cyeniids has always been controversial. 
Some scientists, including Libbie H. 
Hyinan, who wrote the defniitive, 
multivolunie text on invertebrate 
.uiatomy for her generation, regarded 
their simplicity as primitive and their 
evolutionary status as intermediate in 
the rising complexity of evolution. As 
she noted in 1 940, "Their characters 
are in the main primitive and not the 
result of parasitic degeneration." But 
even those researchers who viewed 
the dicyemids as parasitic descendants 
of more complex free-living ancestors 
never tiared to derive these ultimately 
simple multicellular creatures from a 
very complex metazoan. For example, 
Horace W. Stunkard, the leading stu- 
dent of dicyemids in the generation ot 
my teachers, thought that these meso- 
zoans had descended from the sim- 
plest of all Metazoa above the grade of 
sponges and corals — the platyhel- 

minth Hatworms. 

Unfortunately, the .in.itoniy oi di- 
cyemids has become so regressed and 
specialized that no evidence remains 
to link them hnnly with other animal 
groups, so the controversy of persis- 
tently primitive versus degeneratively 
parasitic could never be settled until 
now. But newer methods of gene se- 
i.|iiencing can solve this dilemma, be- 
cause even though visible anatomy 
may fade or transform into something 
unrecognizable, evolution can hardly 
erase all traces of complex gene se- 
quences. If genes known only from 
advanced Metazoa — and known to 
operate only in the context of organs 
and functions unique to Metazoa — 
also exist in dicyemids, then these 
creatures are probably degenerated 
metazoans. But if, after extensive 
search, no sign of distinctive metazoan 
genomes can be detected in di- 
cyemids, then the Mesozoa may well 
be intermediate between single and 

nuilticelled lite after all. 

In the October 21, 1999, issue of 
Siiltirc, M. Kobayashi, H. Furuya, and 
P. W, H. Holland present an elegant so- 
lution to this old problem ("Di- 
cyemids Are Higher Animals"). These 
researchers located a Hox gene — a 
member of a distinctive subset known 
only fi-om metazoans and operating in 
the differentiation of body structures 
along the antero-postcrior (front to 
back) axis — in Dicycma on'c»f(i/c. These 
particular Hox genes occur only in 
triploblastic, or "higher," metazoans 
with body cavities and three ceO layers, 
and not in any of the groups (such as 
the Porifera, or sponges, and the 
Cnidaria, or corals and their relatives) 
traditionally placed "below" triplo- 
blasts. Thus, the dicyemids are de- 
scended from "higher," triploblastic 
animals and have become maximall)' 
simplified in anatomy by adaptation to 
their parasitic lifestyle. They do not 
represent primitive vestiges of an early 







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44 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 2/00 

stage in the linear progress of life. 

In short, if the traditionally "high- 
est" of aU triploblasts — the vertebrate 
line, including our exalted selves — ap- 
pears in the fossil record at the same 
time as all other triploblastic phyla in 
the Cambrian explosion, and if the 
most anatomically simplified of all 
parasites can evolve (as an adaptation 
to local ecology) from a free-living 
lineage within the "higher," triplo- 
blastic phyla, then the biological, vari- 
ational, and Darwinian meaning of 
"evolution" as unpredictable and 
nondirectional gains powerful support 
from two cases that, in a former and 
now disproven interpretation, once 
bolstered an opposite set of transfor- 
mational prejudices. 

As a final thought to contrast the 
predictable unfolding of stellar evolu- 
tion with the contingent nondirec- 
tionality of biological evolution, I 
should note that Darwin's closing line 
about "this planet . . . cycHng on ac- 
cording to the fixed law of gravity," 
while adequate for now, cannot hold 
for all time. Stellar evolution will, one 
day, enjoin a predictable end, at least to 
Ufe on Earth. Quoting one more time 
from Britannica: 

The Sun is destined to perish as a 
white dwarf. But before that happens, 
it will evolve into a red giant, 
engulfing Mercury and Venus in the 
process. At the same time, it will blow 
away the earth's atmosphere and boil 
its oceans, making the planet 

The same predictability also allows 
us to specify the timing of this cata- 
strophe — about 5 billion years from 
now! A tolerably distant future, to be 
sure, but consider the issue another 
way, in comparison with the very dif- 
ferent style of change known as bio- 
logical evolution. Earth originated 
about 4.6 billion years ago. Thus, half 
of our planet's potential history un- 
folded before contingent biological 

evolution produced even a single 
species with consciousness sufficient to 
muse over such matters. Moreover, this 
single lineage arose within a marginal 
group of mammals — the primates, 
which include about 200 of the 4,000 
or so mammalian species. By contrast, 
the world holds at least half a million 
species of beetles. If a meandering 
process consumed half of all available 
time to build such an adaptation even 
once, then mentality at a human level 
certainly doesn't seem to rank among 
the "sure bets," or even the mild prob- 
abilities, of history. 

We must therefore contrast the 
good fortune of our own evolution 
with the inexorable evolution of our 
nurturing Sun toward a spectacular 
climax that might make our further 
evolution impossible. True, the time 
may be too distant to inspire any prac- 
tical concern, but we humans do like 
to muse and to wonder. The contin- 
gency of our evolution offers no guar- 
antees against the certainties of the 
Sun's evolution. We shall probably be 
long gone by then, perhaps taking a 
good deal of Hfe with us and perhaps 
leaving those previously indestructible 
bacteria as the highest mute witnesses 
to a stellar expansion that will finally 
unleash a unicellular Armageddon. Or 
perhaps we, or our successors, will 
have colonized the universe by then 
and wiU shed only a brief tear for the 
destruction of a little cosmic exhibit 
entitled "the museum of our geo- 
graphic origins." Somehow I prefer 
the excitement of wondering and 
cogitation — not to mention the 
power inherent in acting upon things 
that can be changed — to the certainty 
of distant dissolution. 

Stephen jay Gould teaches biology, geol- 
ogy, and the history of science at Harvard 
University. He is also Frederick P. Rose 
Honorary Curator in Invertebrates at the 
American Museum of Natural History. 

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A special issue celebrating the opening^of the Frederick Phineas 
* and Sandra Prie0Rose Center for Earth and Space 

!• « 

% ■» 



'iM scanty conceptions to which we can, attainj 
^ 4nore pleasure than all our knowledge om 

f / celestial things give us, from their excellence, 
{he world in which we live/'- Aristotle 


THE ROSE CENTER natural history 2/00 


By Neil de Grasse Tyson 

AU parts of the known universe reflect the same basic laws of 
nature we observe and test here on Earth. Our universe is 
thus a deceptively simple place. In detail, things may look 
complicated, but in general, cosmic complexity derives from 
only a few fiandamental physical laws. 

Energy is perhaps the most useful scientific concept ever 
developed.The consumption and control of energy on Earth 
is the foundation of what we now call civilization, and the 
transformation of this energy from one form to another es- 
tablishes a direct Hnk between us and the greater universe. 
Let's start with the calorie content of last night's T-bone 
steak. It derives from the flesh of a cud-chewing cow. The 
energy content of the plants eaten by the cow derives from 
the photosynthesis of surdight. And the energy content of 
sunlight derives from the fusion of hydrogen into helium 
deep within the Sun's core. Furthermore, the basic chemical 
elements for Hfe as we know it — including carbon, oxygen, 
nitrogen, and iron — were forged within distant, high-mass 
stars whose explosive death throes spread their enriched 
gases across the galaxy. 

Yes, we are aU powered by thermonuclear fusion — and 
we are Stardust. 

Gravity is pretty useful too.The moons and planets of our 
Solar System and the stars of our Milky Way galaxy move 
through space as though they were performers in a cosmic 
ballet. Their paths are choreographed by the forces of gravity 
and the energy with which gravity endows all objects. 
Throughout the universe, the principles of gravity and en- 
ergy also conspire to force large moons, planets, and stars to 
assume the shape of a sphere. Related principles of physics 
account for why water droplets and soap bubbles want to be 

Previous spread: Gases and stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, 
a nearby galaxy, are a backdrop for Supernova 1987A (center 
I of image), a massive star that exploded 12 million years ago. 
IV. lijht reached Earth in 1987. At right: Artisfs impression of 
a nuclear particle consisting of three quarks. 

'For the mind wants to discover by reasom'nc^ i 




y * ' 

'4 ■■ i' " « 


r »r • ' ' ' 

splicrcs.Tliis coniiiionality of geometric form is yet another 
reminder that the laws ot iiatiiiv are at work everywhere and 
on every scale. 

Astronomy distinguishes itself from most disciplines in 
many ways, but especially by the miiid-stretching scales it 
invokes to describe space, time, and the sizes of objects in 
the universe: If the Sun were a black hole, it would be no 
larger than a child's marble, yet if the Sun were a red giant 
it would be large enough to engulf the entire orbits of 
Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. And if the events that 
span the I5-billion-year time line of the universe were laid 
along the length of a football field, then all of human his- 
tory would span the thickness of a single blade of grass in 
the end zone. 

We built the Museum's new Rose Center for Earth and 
Space to emphasize cosmic unity on all scales — not simply 
because this idea is beautiful to contemplate but also be- 
cause it explains how the universe actually works. What a 
rewarding challenge it has been to work with my scientific 
colleagues — alongside architects, exhibit designers, and, yes, 
administrators — to craft a venue that thematically marries 
cosmic space to architectural space. 

Besides being a monument to the cosmos, the Rose 
Center is an educational organism whose concept, de- 
sign, and execution embody the physical principles that 
enable us all to get a Httle closer to the rest of the uni- 
verse. And the sphere that houses the new Hayden Plane- 
tarium is both beautiful and astrophysically relevant — 
something that cannot be said of pyramids, cubes, or 
other polyhedral forms. 

By treating the umverse as an interconnected system of 
cosinic objects and phenomena, we can do more than just 
show pretty pictures; we can tell scientific stories. The pro- 
tagonists are the laws of physics. The plotline is the effect of 
these laws on the natural world. The love interest is the un- 
ending quest of the human mind to discover the unknown. 
The dramatic scenes are the evolutionars' stages ot the plan- 
ets, stars, and galaxies. And the denouement is the still-un- 
certain ultimate fate ot the universe. 

Neil dc Grasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director 
of New York City's Hayden Planetarium and a iiietnber of the 
tieu'ly launched Department of Astrophysics at the American Mu- 
seum of Natural History. His recent hook One Universe: At 
Home in the Cosmos, coautliored with Cliarles Liu and Robert 
Irion (Joseph Henry Press, 2000), is the companion volume to the 
Museum's new Rose Center for Earth and Space. 

\hat exists in the infinity of space/' Lucretius 


THE ROSE CENTER natural history 2/00 


The reborn Hayden Planetarium, in the new Rose Center for Earth and Space, 
mirrors astronomy's radical reinterpretation of outer space. 

By Henry S. F. Cooper Jr. 

Over the past several months, a sphere 87 feet in di- 
ameter — standing on a tripod inside a 120-foot 
cube made partly of glass — has taken shape on 81st 
Street near Central Park West in New York City. At 
night, under soft Hghts, it glovv^s enigmatically. Is it a massive 
Christmas ornament inside a transparent box, or a Pop Art 
Hghtbulb in its container? Perhaps it's a model of the Sun: 
those round balls orbiting it seem to suggest as much. But 
when you enter the cube and look up from its first-floor 
balcony, you might, tor all the world, be gazing at a space- 
ship surrounded by a multilevel gantry. 

The sphere is, in fact, the home of the new Hayden 

Architects Todd Schliemann (left) 
AND James Polshek 



Planetarium, centerpiece of the Frederick Phineas and San- 
dra Priest Rose Center for Earth and Space, the Museum's 
newest addition. Its upper hemisphere is a much upgraded 
planetarium renamed the Space Theater (to distinguish it 
from its predecessor, the Sky Theater), while its lower hemi- 
sphere contains a searingly dramatic, you-are-there laser re- 
creation of the big bang. Together with other elements of 
the Rose Center, the sphere was designed to illuminate as- 
pects of and answers to cosmic questions: Where are we in 
space and time? How did we get here? 

Everyone concerned with the new, $210 million Rose 
Center — including astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, di- 
rector of the planetarium; James Stewart Polshek, the archi- 
tect; and Ralph Appelbaum, the exhibition designer — agrees 
that the sphere symbohzes a revitaHzation of the Museum 
that began in 1993, when its trustees picked a new president, 
Ellen V. Putter, then president of Barnard College. 

To Putter, the center is an intellectual launching pad into 
the rest of the Museum. "Prom there," she says, "you might 
go across the ground-floor lobby of the main Museum to 
the spectacular new Hall of Biodiversity or the magnificent 
Northwest Coast Indians or go up to see the ever popular 
dinosaurs. Now we can take our visitors on a sweeping, ex- 
otic journey from the origins of the universe and the forma- 
tion of galaxies, stars, and planets to the core of our own 
planet and on to an investigation of all Hfe on Earth, its var- 
ious ecosystems and habitats and range of species, including 
our own species and culture. I think we are the only mu- 
seum in the world that can tell the comprehensive story of 
Ufe in such a seamless way." 

Throughout the planning, Tyson, Polshek, and Appel- 
baum have worked so interdependently that it is often hard 
to tell who thought of what. Despite the stresses and hard 


7 can never look upon the stars without wondering why th4 

Visitors who follow 
the Scaling Walk 
around the sphere 
can consider the 
relative magnitude 
of objects in the 
universe (architect's 

fhole World does not become Astronomers/' Thomas Wright 

52 THE ROSE CENTER natural history 2/00 

For architect James Polshek, the sphere 
inside the cube is a salute to I.M. Pei's glass 
pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre. 

work that go with any large project, they had a very good 
time, and this is evident in the result. (They are quick to 
point out that many others, such as Polshek's partner Todd 
Schliemann, were vital to the creation of the Rose Center.) 
The old Hayden Planetarium, which opened on Octo- 
ber 3, 1935, had become a venerable New York icon in 
need of redefinition. To scientific purists, the last straw was a 
1993 exhibition about the Star Trek television series that in- 
cluded a prominent display of Mr. Spock's pointy ears. As 
the fourth-oldest planetarium in the United States — after 
the Adler in Chicago (1930), the Pels in Philadelphia (1934), 

and the Griffith in Los Angeles (1935, just four and a half 
months before the Hayden) — the Hayden had become out- 
moded in many ways. Like the other, older planetariums, it 
was designed to specifications by the German company Carl 
Zeiss and was intended basically to house projectors; apart 
from their domes, these Art Deco buildings consisted 
mainly of corridors for getting people in and out of the big 
attraction: the sky theater showing views of the stars as seen 
from Earth. And the Hayden — in terms of its shows, at 
least — was stuck in a geocentric vision of the universe. It 
was as if the scientific revolution triggered by Copernicus 's 
proposal in 1543 that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the cen- 
ter of the Solar System had never occurred. An even bigger 
problem was that after the old Hayden was built, there were 
enormous advances in astrophysics and in our understanding 
of the universe, not to mention the advent of the space age 
and manned space travel. 




'Why did no one teach me the constellations 

The Museum's 
newest addition is 
respectful of the 
* institution's history. 
Its centerpiece is 
the new Hayden 
Planetarium sphere, 
which is about the 
same diameter as 
the dome of the old 
planetarium and is 
centered on the 
same spot 

Ellen Futter, Museum pi^sident 

A visiting committee ot" scientists, chaired by J. Richard 
Gott III, an astrophysicist from Princeton, had already been 
organized in the early 1990s to consider the planetarium's 
options. The first idea was to retrofit the building so that it 
could deal better with such matters as the big bang, star for- 
mation, and quasars, but the dark corridors ot the Hayden 
did not lend themselves to exhibition spaces any more read- 
ily than the old Zeiss Mark VI projector housed within it 
lent itself to intergalactic displays. 

Polshek, who joined the project at the retrofitting stage, 
toyed with the idea of completing the circle ot the old Hay- 
den dome, thus turning it into a sphere. The idea was to ac- 
compUsh this without disturbing the dome's original sup- 
ports, a series of columns that held it up like a table. "But 
when we drew it up as a sphere, it looked a little clunky," he 
says. The idea was shelved. Once Futter became president of 
the Museum in No\-ember 1993, plamiing began to heat up. 





\vhen I was a child?'' Thomas Cartyie 

By cIk- tiiiK' i\soii |iiiiicd the pl.iiict.irmin st.ill iii |uly \'-)'-)4, 
several proposals tor ictrofitting were on tin.- tabic. Fiittcr 
then asked die scieiuists, architects, and designers what they 
would do if they had a blank slate. It was a seminal question. 
Conceptually whisking away the old building, Polshek lifted 
the sphere high into the air and onto a pedestal. Tyson 
doubts. "It looked like a golf ball on a tee," he says. 

Soon the golf tee, too, was swept away and replaced with 
a tripod of rounded beams attached to the armature of the 
sphere below its equator. Placing the beams at the side made 
them largely imperceptible. Suddenly the sphere appeared to 
be untethered and levitating — floating, bubblelike, as if it 
were a planet or a star. 

The Museums trustees feO in love with the unfettered 
sphere. One entranced trustee was Frederick P. Rose, chair- 
man of the construction firm Rose Associates, which has 
built many New York apartment houses. A wiry, energetic 
seventy-tive-year-old who always wore his enthusiasms on 
his sleeve. Rose donated $20 miUion to the project and su- 
pervised the construction until his death this past Septem- 
ber. Two other trustees, Dorothy Cullman and David S. 
Gottesman, also gave important gifts to the project. 

The Rose Center is the most ambitious not-for-profit 
project to have been built in Manhattan since Lincoln Cen- 
ter. Although the Metropolitan Museums additions since 
the 196()s are bigger in aggregate, no single element is as 
large. And although there are other examples of spheres in 
architecture (Wallace K. Harrison's Perisphere at the 1939 
World's Fair, for example), the new Hayden Planetarium 
sphere is unique in being encapsulated in a cube. Another 
feature is that the cube's two glass walls (west and north) are 
the only ones in the United States that are built without 
frames or muUions to hold the panes, each of which mea- 
sures ten feet by five and a half feet and is half an inch thick. 
These panes — separated by less than half an inch — are 
bolted to damps attached to a system of tension rods, allow- 
ing for the stresses caused by wind or movements of the 
earth; the space betsveen the panes is caulked with a translu- 
cent silicon sealant so that the t\vo glass facades, each as high 
as a r\velve-stor)- building, look like single plates. 

Polshek, who regards the sphere inside the cube as his 
salute to I.M. Pel's glass p)Tamid at the entrance to the 
Louvre, says the Rose Center is respectfiil of the Museum's 
history. The sphere is centered on the same spot as the dome 


of tile old H.iydeii .iiid has about the same diameter. It also 
fits ne.itly into a space that was designated as a courtyard in 
the Museum's 1871 master plan. Moreover, the Rose Cen- 
ter makes liberal use of the same brick, granite, limestone, 
and patinated copper rooting that are used throughout the 
rest of the Museum. 

Having been skeptical of the planetarium sphere during 
its clunky, multilegged early stage and then in its golf-tee 
stage, Tyson, who in May 1996 became Frederick P. Rose 
Director of the Hayden Planetarium, loved it when it levi- 
tated. "It's now floating out there in full view, serving as a 
scientific icon," Tyson says of the floating ball. "Spheres are 
common in the universe. I can work with a visible, levitat- 
ing sphere." 

Tyson and his associates quickly decided to use the 
sphere as a reference for the size and scale of objects in the 
universe. At the building's second level (positioned below 
the equator of the sphere, which looms above you) is the 

Tyson and his associates decided to use the 
sphere as a reference point for the size and 
scale of objects in the miiverse. 

Neil de Grasse Tyson, planetarium director 

hust be learnt/' William Herschel 


THE ROSE CENTER natural history 2/oo 

Scaling Walk. "Trying to explain the scale of things in space 
is the nightmare in which we live," says James Sweitzer, an 
astrophysicist who worked with Tyson on the Rose Center's 
technology. The solution was to have the sphere represent — 
at various points in your walk around it — the Sun, a giant 
star, and the universe itself. Seen as the Sun, the 87-foot 
sphere helps you get a feel for the relative size of the plan- 
ets — 8 feet llVs inches for Jupiter, 9'/l inches for Earth, 5 
inches for Mars, 3'/4 inches for Mercury, and so on — that 
float above the walk. As you circumnavigate the sphere, the 
frame of reference keeps changing: "Walk a Httle further 
around," says Tyson, "and now the Sun fits in your two 

The Cosmic Pathtmy takes you through 
billions of years of evolution in a time line 
that unfolds at 3 million years per inch. 

hands, while the sphere represents the blue supergiant star 
Rigel, in the constellation Orion. Walk around a litde more, 
and the sphere becomes our galaxy's halo. Then you can fit 
the whole solar neighborhood in a tiny cup." 

The other elements of the Rose Center must reckon with 
the sheer immensity of the sphere: they wind around it or He 
under it or escape from it altogether into the Museum proper. 
From the Scaling Walk, you can exit down a long ramp 
named the Harriet 
and Robert Heil- 
brunn Cosmic Path- 
way, which swirls 
under the sphere 
and deposits you, 
350 feet and one 
and a half revolu- 
tions later, at the 
first level. With 
more than 300 im- 
ages and diagrams 
mounted along the 
railing, the pathway 
takes you through 
13 billion years of 

evolution in a time Rj^lph APPELBAUM, 

line that unfolds at EXHIBITION DESIGNER 



about 3 million years 
per inch. Dinosaurs go 
extinct a mere two feet 
from the end, where all 
of human history is 
represented by the 
width of a human hair. 

From there, a flight 
of stairs carries you 
down to the Lewis B. 
and Dorothy Cullman 
Hall of the Universe, 
directly beneath the 
sphere, and as you look 
down at some of the 
images of celestial ob- 
jects reproduced in the 
floor's brilliant mo- 
saics, the sphere seems 
to float above you, 
"confronting your idea 
of up and down," as 
Tyson puts it. A free- 
standing wall of twenty 
video screens collec- 
tively called the Astro- 
Bulletin plugs visitors 
into real-time events in 
space through direct 
feeds from large terres- 
trial observatories, the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, 
and spacecraft visiting planets, comets, and asteroids. The 
AstroBulletin also shows videos that take you through the 
evolution of stars, planets, and the universe itself or that por- 
tray the search for extraterrestrial Hfe and planetary land- 
scapes. Adding substance to all the video displays, the 16.1- 
ton Willamette meteorite seems about to blast a crater in the 
concrete floor. 

But even the Willamette meteorite is dwarfed by the 
giant sphere, which may make you feel as nervous as if you 
had an elephant in your living room. There is, however, an 
escape route. Back upstairs on the first level, at the foot of 
the Cosmic Pathway, a big blue-and- white model of Earth 
beckons you through a corridor and into the David S. and 

oe.'i* o<^^ 


'What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposec 

Ruth L. Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. This section of the 
Rose Center, which opened last June, looks inward at Earth 
and its geological history, giving you a foundation for all ot 
hfe to come — and, incidentally, a springboard to the forty- 
plus giilleries that make up the rest of the Museum. 

The big-ticket item — indeed, the only one for which 
you actually need a ticket other than your entrance contri- 
bution to the Museum — is the Space Theater, situated in 
the top half of the sphere. Here is where the Ptolemaic, 
geocentric constraints are finally broken. No more looking 
at the night sky solely from Earth; the technology used in 
the theater enables you to see the stars projected accurately 
from any point in the Solar System (and from anywhere else 
in the universe). 

The past, present, 
and future of the 
universe are 
explored through 
videos, floor 
mosaics, and 
computer feeds 
from observatories 
and spaceoaft 


The first completed 
component of the 
Rose Center, below, 
opened last June 
and focuses on the 
geological history 
of our planet 


J our method of questioning/' Werner Karl Heisenberg 


THE ROSE CENTER natural history 2/00 

When you enter the Space Theater, the new Zeiss Mark 
IX projector, urJike the Mark VI, which in the old Hayden 
loomed above you Uke a giant ant, is nowhere to be seen. 
As the lights dim, the squat httle projector — strongly remi- 
niscent of R2D2, the technologically savvy Star Wars 
robot — rises from beneath the floor to carry you into space. 
The new Zeiss is to the old one what a spacecraft is to a 
Model A Ford. It takes you from one planet to another 

(something the old projectors couldn't do), all the way to 
the outer edges of the Solar System. Many significant ad- 
vances in astrophysics during the past sixty years, however, 
have involved our own Milky Way galaxy, as weU as our 
local supercluster of galaxies and the structure of the uni- 
verse as a whole. In order to hft you out of the Solar System 
and its neighborhood of stars, digital technology — a Digital 
Universe computer — takes over where the Mark IX projec- 


7he stuff of the world is min 

J '11 

cor leaves oft" (sec "Tlieater of tlic Stars," page 60). The 
coinputers in tlie Space Theater and elsewhere in the Rose 
Center allow exhibits to he updated in light of new discov- 
eries. "The database is malleable," Tyson says, "hi astron- 
omy, if you design only for what you know, you're dead." 

One result of all this high technology, sensory zapping, 
and hypergalactic velocity is that the shows in the Space 
Theater are a lot shorter: twenty minutes as opposed to 

forty-five minutes a decade ago, or an hour when the Hay- 
den first opened. More than once in the old planetarium, 
Tyson turned up the lights at the end of a forty-five-minute 
show to find much of the audience asleep. The MTV gener- 
ation's attention span may be short, but perhaps young 
people also have an increased capacity for the rapid absorp- 
tion ot information, especiaUy if it comes through several 
senses at once. (In the Space Theater, while pixels bombard 
the eye, sounds ripple from multiple speakers in the dome 
and seats shake to simulate space-shutde launches.) The 
show's twenty-minute duration also allows the Space The 
ater to be filled and emptied twice per hour. And the audi- 
ence, far from falling asleep, will probably reel from the the- 
ater in a state of sensory shock. 

For additional sensory zapping, visitors can then take the 
escalator down to the Big Bang Theater, in the beUy of the 
planetarium sphere, where they can be visually pounded by 

Leaving the Big Bang Theater, the audience 
will blink in the brilliant light from the 
reflective panels covering the sphere. 

a re-creation of the first three minutes of the very origins of 
the universe. Leaving the theater, the dark-adapted audience 
will bhnk in the flood of brilliant natural Hght created by the 
reflective white aluminum panels that cover the sphere. 

Light is what virtually all the exhibits consist of buckets 
ot it splashed from projectors onto the Space Theater's 
dome; streams ot it on computer and video screens; zillions 
of photons of it hurthng through the big windows, direct 
from the nearest star, eight hght-minutes away. Light, notes 
Tyson, is what astronomers study. "One of our missions is to 
alert the public to how important the analysis of hght is," he 
says. "It's at the foundation of most cosmic discoveries. By 
analyzing hght spectra, we discovered the planets outside 
our own Solar System, and we discovered the expanding 
universe. We learned that the ingredients of the stars are the 
same as those found in the human body and in the rest of life 
on Earth, which leads to the legitimate claim that we are 
Stardust." Light is also something that architects and design- 
ers can play with; exhibition designer Appelbaum points out 
that most galleries in most museums are dark — paradoxi- 
cally, the result of the invention of the electric hght. In many 
places on the Rose Center's glass-curtain walls, he attached 
detraction gratings that act as prisms, casting spectra — tiny 
rainbows — that t\\'inkle across the white sphere, across the 
planets, and onto the back wall, moving slowly wdth the 
Sun. Most designers hke to control Hght; Appelbaum, Pol- 
shek, and Tyson are content to let hght happen. 

The Rose Center, say all three, is a celebration of Hght. D 

:uff/' Arthur Stanley Eddingtofi 


THE HAY DEN PLANETARIUM natural history 2/00 


Planetariums have come a Long way in 
the past 300 years. 
By James B. Sweitzer 


ithin the globe of the new Hayden Planetarium, 
advanced projectors are fed by some of the most 
powerful computers ever used to advance the 
public understanding of science. This cutting- 
edge technology makes it easy to forget that the planetar- 
ium descends from a lineage that is more than 300 years old. 
In the mid- 1600s, Adam Olearius, court mathematician 
and hbrarian to the duke of Holstein-Schleswig-Gottorp, 
designed a hollow, ten-foot- 
diameter, water-powered rotating 
sphere into which people could 
cHmb to see gilded constellations 
illuminated by centrally placed oil 
lamps. At best, the Gottorp globe 
was a crude depiction of the ce- 
lestial sphere, but it could not ad- 
equately represent the planets of 
our Solar System. 

For that, one would have to 
wait for the mechanical tabletop 
orreries of the eighteenth cen- 
tury. Orreries were simulation de- 
vices based on one of the most 
advanced technologies of the 
time, that of the gear-driven 
clock. They allowed students of 
astronomy to move miniature 
planets round and round a small 
brass ball that represented the 
Sun. The orrery was ideal for dis- 
playing the Copernican model of 
the planets in our Solar System, 

but, like the Gottorp globe, it failed to provide an integrated 
view of the universe. 

The next leap did not come until the 1920s, when the 
firm of Carl Zeiss in Jena, Germany, invented an electro-op- 
tical projector that cast images of the stars. Sun, Moon, and 
planets onto a large hemispheric screen. The positions and 
motions of these celestial bodies could be reaUstically re- 
created from any perspective on Earth and for any date up 
to 26,000 years in the past or the future. 

From the time it opened in 1935, the old Hayden Plan 

the electro-optical planetarium was, however, its perspective 
remained geocentric. To offset this limitation, the Hayden 
installed a large overhead orrery (with a Hghtbulb as the Sun 
and motorized planets circHng around it on electrified orbit 
rails) that operated until the early 1980s in a gallery below 
the Sky Theater. 

But even the best mechanically driven projectors and 
orreries are incapable of depicting the universe as we now 
understand it. Astrophysicists of the twentieth century 
demonstrated that far from living in the center of a gently 
rotating, unvarying clockwork world, we humans inhabit 
instead an expanding, constantly evolving universe. The 
stars and galaxies are organized in hundred-million-light- 

1- 1 

^'^r^H^ / ^ 


A ■ ■ 1 

The eighteenth century saw the development of the orrery, a clockwork mechanism ideal 
for presenting the Copernican view of the Solar System. 

year structures that extend as far as telescopes can see. To 
represent this universe, new technologies and devices are 
required, and the data fed into them must be constantly 
updated. This is precisely what happens in the new Hay- 
den Planetarium. 

With two projection systems, the new Space Theater 
simulates a vehicle that can fly to any place in the universe. 
The most modern star and planet projector in existence — a 
Zeiss Mark IX, special Hayden edition — depicts the night 
sky as seen from Earth. Nine thousand stars are projected 

et^yium relied on the brilliant Zeiss invention. Advanced as fiber-optically which lends them a new sharpness and sub- 

'Man hath weav'd out a net, and this net throwne upor 

tic ilistiiKtions of color. Tlic Sun, Moon, .ukI planets course 
throiit^h the sky, steered by special computers, and the sky 
can be displayed notjnst from Earth but from any planet in 
the Solar System. 

For deep space travel, the task falls to the digital-dome 
simulator, a one-of-a-kind system integrated by SEOSTri- 
mension of Great Britain. Seven 
powerful video projectors blend 
together to display on the huge 
dome a single image ot more 
than 7.2 million pi.xels. Fed by a 
Silicon GraphicsOn^^ 2 Infinite- 
Reality Engine computer, the 
system is similar to those used by 
the film industry for special ef- 
fects. But the Space Theater's ef- 
fects are based on data from 
NASA and the European Space 
Agency, as well as on supercom- 
puter models of the universe. The 
result is a digital model of the 
galaxy, featuring billions of stars. 

In the Space Theater's signa- 
ture program, the audience will 
take a grand tour from Earth into 
deep space. Voyaging through the 
Milky Way, they will stop off at a 
fantastic nebular region. Shitting 
to a higher speed, they will — in 
one continuous movement — 
take a turn, head out the south- 
ern side of the disk of the galaxv', 
fly past Earth's nearest extra- 
galactic neighbors, and then hur- 
tle a billion light-years from 
home, journeying trillions of 
times farther than NASA's most 
remote space probe. 

The new planetarium also 
treats an aspect of cosmic history' 
that was all but unkno\\'n in the 
1930s. The Big Bang Theater, 
located in the bottom of the plan- 
etarium orb, is, in efl:ect, a giant 
time machine. As though sus- 
pended over the abyss of the early 
universe, visitors will stand on a 
doughnut-shaped glass floor Mng 
over a deep, wide projection 
screen. A high-powered laser 
beam and dozens of other com- 
puter-controlled hghts will im- 

merse viewers in an accurate re-creation of the most impor- 
tant epoch of the early cosmos. 

Unique in the universe of planetariums, the new Hay- 
den, with its capacity to accurately simulate the universe in 
extraordinary three-dimensional detail, will launch visitors 
on one-of-a-kind expeditions into deep space and time. D 


How a city boy grew up with stars in his eyes 
By Neil de Grasse Tyson 

It was a dark and starry night. 

The air was calm and mild. I felt as though I could see forever. Too numerous to 
count, the stars of the autunm sky and the constellations they trace were rising slowly 
in the east while the waxing crescent Moon was descending at the western horizon. 
The Big Dipper and Litde Dipper were just where they were supposed to be, afloat in 
the northern sky. The planets Jupiter and Saturn were up there, too — one in the east, 
the other in the west. 

One of the stars, I don't remember which, seemed to fall toward the horizon. It was 
a meteor streaking through the atmosphere. I saw a long, skinny cloud that stretched 
across the sky. But it wasn't a cloud. It was the Milky Way, with its \-ars-ing bright and 
dark patches giving the appearance of structure and the illusion of depth. Before that 
night I had never seen the Milky Way or the constellarions with such clarit\'. 

Forty-five minutes of my suspended disbelief swiftly passed before the house lights 
came back on in the Hayden Planetarium Sky Theater. 

That was the night. The mght the universe poured down from the sky and flowed 
into my body. I had been called. The study of the cosmos would be my career, and no 
force on Earth would stop me. I was just nine years old, but I now had an answer for 
that perennially annoying question all adults ask: "What do you want to be when you 
grow up?" Although I could barely pronounce the word, I would tell them. "I want to 
be an astrophysicist." 

From that moment onward, one question lingered within me: Was the planetarium 
sky an accurate portrayal of the real celestial sphere, or was it a hoax? Surely there were 
too many stars. I had proof. I had seen the night sk\' from the rooftop of my apartment 
building in the Bronx. Built on the highest lull of the borough, it w-as one of a set of 
three named the Skyview Aparmients. 

From New York Citv- on a good night, you might see a hundred stars. But the first 
time I was away from the cit)' — at a special astronomy camp in the Mojave Desert — 
I saw bezillions. Apparently my first sky show, six years earlier, had not been a hoax 
after all. In the near-zero humidit)' on that cloudless desert night. I couldn't help 
thinking to myself, as I gazed upon that glorious natural canopy, "Tt reminds me ot 
the Hayden Planetarium." 

Neil dc Cnissc Tyson, an astrophysicist, is the Frederick P. Rose Director ofXcwYork City's 
Hayden Phuietariuni and a visiting research scientist at Princeton University. Tyson's memoir. 
The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, has just been pub- 
hshed by Donbleday. 

he Heavens, and now they are his owne/' John Donne 



Cosmos 2000 

A special section 

produced and edited by Richard Panek 

The Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Nat- 
ural History happened to open just as the prevaihng con- 
ception of the cosmos was undergoing its first major shift 
since Copernicus and Galileo removed Earth from the cen- 
ter of the universe. The year was 1935. Only ten years ear- 
Her, the astronomer Edwin Hubble had announced that 
some of the faint, fuzzy spirals at the farthest limits of the 
most powerful telescopes of the time seemed to be external 
to our own galaxy and, indeed, seemed to be galaxies equal 
in size and magnitude to the Milky Way. Then, in 1929, 
Hubble outdid himself with the revelation that these galax- 
ies appear to be racing away from us, and from one another, 
at rates proportional to their distances — the farther away 
they are, the faster they seem to be receding. In other 
words, the universe is expanding. 

A universe that's expanding must be expanding from 
something, but in 1935 Hubble's finding was stiU so new 
that no physicist had yet followed its impUcations to their ul- 
timate conclusion. To a great extent, astronomers (and every- 
one else) were still inhabiting the pre-Hubble universe — 
one that moved, its planets and stars and galaxies following 
the predictable paths of Newtonian gravitation, but not one 
that changed. In the sixty-five years since then, however, the 
primary focus of astronomy and astrophysics has moved to- 
vvard understanding and explaining an ever 
changing universe: an organism that evolves over time. 

This is the universe that the Museum's new Rose Center 
for Earth and Space describes. To commemorate its opening. 

Natural History has commissioned six prominent as- 
tronomers and astrophysicists — some of them the very sci- 
entists who made the breakthroughs that redefined the cos- 
mos in the past six and a half decades — to tell the story of 
this new universe. 

The narrative begins close to home, in our own galaxy, 
with an account of how individual stars in our night sky 
evolve and the discovery that planets are orbiting at least 
some, and maybe most, of these stars. The story then moves 
away from the Milky Way and goes across space and back in 
time to other galaxies, members of a celestial species with its 
own evolutionary narrative and its own underlying organiza- 
tion of weblike superstructures stretching to the ends of the 
"visible" universe. Eventually the story leaves the visible uni- 
verse and enters the realm of the big bang (and beyond), 
where macrocosmic structures find their origins in the micro- 
cosmic physics of subatomic particles. 

Our tale ends there for now — February 2000 — ^but it hardly 
ends there, period. Surely this story will change over the next 
sixty-five years. And in a sense, the question that has kept sky 
watchers returning to their vigils since the dawn of our species 
may be the question that visitors to the reborn Hayden Plane- 
tarium, as well as readers of the articles in the follovwng pages, 
will come to value most: What don't we know? 

Richard Panek writes Natural History '5 "Celestial Events" column 
and is the author of Seeing and Believing: How the Telescope 
Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens (Penguin, 1999). 

C S M OS 2000/STARS natural history 2/00 


Also explode explode, collapse collapse, 
nucleosynthesize nucleosynthesize. It 
turns out that our nightly companions do 
more than just sparkle — and therein lies 
the tale of our own origins. 

By Allan Sandage 

Historians of science a hundred years hence will remem- 
ber twentieth-century astronomy for two main accom- 
plishments. One is the development of a cosmology of 
the early universe, fixjm creation through consequent 
expansion. The other is the understanding of stellar evolution. 

Although not as well known among nonscientists as the big 
bang is, the notion of the evolution of stars provided the foun- 
dation upon which astronomers built the grand synthesis of cos- 
mological origins. The idea that stars change as they age and that 
these changes in turn alter their local envirorunent and the 
chemical makeup of their parent galaxy — an idea that has devel- 
oped only within the past fifty years — stands in the same relation 
to astronomy as the Darwinian revolution does to biology. It is a 
concepmal breakthrough that makes possible the modern un- 
derstanding of the origin, evolution, and fate of the universe and 
that influences even questions of life and eschatology. 

The theory of stellar evolution had its beginnings when 
the American physicist Jonathan Homer Lane, in 1869, and 
the German physicist A. Ritter, from 1878 to 1883, derived 
equations that described gaseous spheres, or stars, as chemi- 
cal configurations held together by their own gravity and 
obeying the known gas laws of thermodynamics. The Ger- 
man mathematician Robert Emden published a remarkable 
book on the subject — Gaskugelii (Gas Spheres) — in 1907, 
summarizing the work of Lane and Ritter and adding much 
to the early theory. Well into the 1950s, the so-called Lane- 
Emden equation was the starting point for much of the the- 

Sixty-five Years 
of Discovery 





1937 Mj 

'Gasballs spinning about, crossing each other 

oivtical work on the structure of stars: their central temper- 
atures dnd pressures, their masses, and tlieir ec]uilibria. 

But did the stars actually do what the ec|uations said? 
Yes — and the tact that we can determine what the condi- 
tions are in the deep interior of the Sun and other stars with 
fir greater precision than we can manage for most other re- 
gions of the visible universe still amazes most of us. 

In the early years of the twentieth century, the Danish as- 
tronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung, working in the Netherlands, 
and the U.S. astronomer Henn,' Norris Russell, working at 
Princeton, invented a graph that would turn out to be the 
Rosetta stone of stellar evolution. When you plot the tem- 
peratures of stars (which can be inferred from their colors) 
against their absolute luminosities (which can be calculated 
from their distances and apparent brightnesses), a striking 
pattern emerges. Figure out why that pattern should exist at 
all, and you have the life histor\' of the stars. 

As stellar astronomers fiUed in the so-called Hertzsprung- 
RusseD (HR) diagram with observational data during the 
first half of the twentieth century, two dense collections of 
data points emerged. The main sequence shows stellar lumi 
nosities ranging fr-om 10,000 times greater than to Id. 000 
times less than the intrinsic brightness of the Sun. In this 
thin, wavy, highly populated region of the graph, the corre 
spending surface temperatures of the stars range from 
100,000° Kelvin to cooler than 3,000°. The other principal 
branch on the HR diagram is occupied by stars that are all 
100 times more luminous than the Sun yet cooler than 
4,000° Kelvin. It is easy to use fundamental equations of 
physics to show that stars such as those in the second group 
must have enormous radii, exceeding that of the Sun by 
more than a hundredfold, and, in addition, are of exceed- 
ingly low density. 

The stars in this second group are now called giants, 
while stars on the main sequence (which include the Sun), 
with radii that range from only one-fifth to ten times that of 
the Sun, are appropriately named dwarts. 

But while this diagram showed that stars clearly belonged 
to certain distinct types, astronomers still didn't understand 

A star is stillborn: This detail from the Trifid NebuU vividly depicts the 
ongoing struggle of a protostellar object (hidden behind the clouds of dust 
and gas) to come to life and begin to bum hydrogen into helium. According 
to astronomers, the aspiring star won't make it. 








1938 P 





issing. Same old dingdong always/' James Joyce 

how the types corresponded to one another or how (and 
even whether) stars changed. Then, in 1938, Hans Bethe in 
the United States and, independently, Carl-Friedrich von 
Weizsacker in Germany wrote down the nuclear reactions 
by which hydrogen converts to heUum in the high-temper- 
ature, high-density realm of deep stellar interiors. With that 

discovery, nuclear as- 
Blown away: An X-ray image reveals the 
supernova Cassiopeia A expelling gaseous 
clumps of silicon, sulfur, and iron from 
deep in the star's interior. In a similar way, 
a single exploding star produced all the 
elements on Earth. 

trophysics was born 
and, with it, the un- 
derstanding that hy- 
drogen's burning into 
helium is the first 
stage of an evolution- 

ary process. 

Over the next two 
decades, physicists de- 
scribed the way in 
which other elements 
are newly created 
from atomic reactions 
within stars. In this 
process, called nucleo- 
synthesis, first hydro- 
gen burns into he- 
lium, then helium 
turns into carbon, car- 
bon into nitrogen, ni- 
trogen into oxygen, 
and so on through all 

We are all made from the same 
cosmic stuff and, indeed, were all once 
inside the same star. 

the other heavy elements, up to and including iron. At each 
stage, mass is lost, the stellar structure changes, and the star 
recycles chemical elements into space. Sometimes this pro- 
cess ends in the catastrophic explosion of a supernova and, 
with it, the formation and expulsion into space of iron and 
aU the heavier elements. 

The development of nuclear astrophysics not only pro- 
vided much more sophisticated science for use in comput- 
ing detailed stellar models and nuclear burnings than did the 











Lane-Emden equation and its later extensions; it also ex- 
plained all parts of the HR diagram. By the 1960s, as- 
tronomers could follow the chemical history of the galaxy, 
and indeed of the entire universe, from the birth of the first 
stars, through the buildup of the abundance of heavy ele- 
ments in the interstellar medium out of which new stars are 
being continuously formed, and finally to their demise, 
when the stars become either stable white dwarfs, neutron 
stars, black holes, or unstable exploding supernovas. 

This synthesis of nuclear physics and stellar astronomy has 
led us to four significant conclusions. The first is that the ear- 
liest stars were formed from a reservoir of protogalactic gas 
that had not been enriched by a previous generation of nu- 
clear burners; indeed, these first-generation stars have turned 
out to be deficient in the heavy chemical elements by a fac- 
tor of more than a thousand. Second, because new genera- 
tions of stars are made in part from the gases of older stars, we 
can date types of stars according to their "metalUcity" — their 
relative abundance of elements heavier than hydrogen or he- 
lium. Third, by examining its metaUicity, we have deter- 
mined that the Sun is a third-generation star made from sev- 
eral supernova episodes that enriched the local interstellar gas 
some 5 bilhon years ago. (The age of the Sun and our Solar 
System has in fact been calculated at 4.6 billion years, consid- 
erably less than the age of the approximately 13-billion-year- 
old clusters of stars at the heart of the galaxy.) 

Finally, because all elements heavier than helium have 
been nucleosynthesized in the deep interiors of stars, the 
ninety-three stable chemical elements that are the raw mate- 
rials of Ufe were all present at one time inside at least one 
star. We are all made from the same cosmic stuff and, indeed, 
were all once inside the same star. Life as we know it, de- 
pending as it does on the interlocking details of the intricate 
biochemistry that keeps Hving things in equilibrium, would 
be fundamentally different if the Sun had been born earHer 
in the history of the galaxy, when the mean abundance of 
the elements that are heavier than heHum and necessary for 
Hfe (such as carbon and oxygen) was much lower. Our bio- 
chemical feedback systems would have been considerably 
different — if they had existed at all. 

We are the product of the stars. This is one of the most 
profound insights to have arisen out of twentieth-century 
astronomy. Life is clearly a property of the evolving universe, 
made possible by stellar evolution. D 


'Then felt I like some watcher of the skies, Wheii 



Prospecting for Planets 

Astronomers are finding new worlds by the 
dozen — settling one ancient debate and 
sparking a multitude of others. 

By R. Paul Butler 

Do nthcr worlds exist? This question predates not just 
UFO sightings and Star Trek but science and prob- 
ably written history as well. Epicurus and Aristode 
each debated the issue more than 2,000 years ago. 
Exactly 400 years ago this month, on February 1, 1600, in a 
public plaza in Rome. Giordano Bruno was burned at the 
stake for — among his other heresies — advancing the notion 
that there were other worlds. But it's only within the past 
decade that astronomers have overcome the enormous tech- 
nical challenges of probing the vicinity of stars other than 
the Sun to look for unknown planets. In the process, they 
have not only answered the question of whether other 
worlds exist but also realized that planets are probably at least 
as common as stars themselves. 

Planets are extremely hard to see, emitting no light of 
their own and shining only in the reflected light of their host 
stars. To a hypothetical alien astronomer looking toward our 
Solar System fi-om a planet orbiting even a relatively nearby 
star, Jupiter would be an impossibly faint dot, lost in the 
overpowering glare of the billion-times-brighter Sun. The 
other planets, including Earth, would be fainter still. 

We can't simply point a telescope at a star and see its or- 
biting planets directly, but we can attempt to detect them in- 
directly. The same principle appHes to the detection of elec- 
trons. They've never been directly observed but were 
discovered a century ago by virtue of their electric charge. 
For extrasolar planets, it's a planet's gravitational field acdng 
on its host star that provides the telltale evidence. Like an 
unruly poodle yanking its more massive owner on a leash, 
an orbidng planet gravitarionally tugs the host star around in 
a small counter-orbit. 

A star locked in an orbital embrace with a Jupiter-mass 
planet wiU regularly move from side to side as well as wob- 


C\^ „0^ .\ ^<^ 




ble back and forth. The side-to-side motion can (in theory) 
be detected by precisely measuring the position of a star rel- 
ative to more distant background stars, but it's the back-and- 
forth wobble on which astronomers have so far concen- 
trated their efforts. Specifically, they use the Doppler 
effect — an apparent change in the frequency of light (or 
sound) waves that is caused by motion, similar to the distor- 
tion of a train whistle's sound waves once they leave their 
source. By employing the Doppler effect to measure minute 
shifts in light waves from a wobbling star, astronomers have, 
to date, discovered twenty-eight extrasolar planets. 

Prior to these discoveries, theorists had assumed that 
most planetary systems would be similar to our Solar Sys- 
tem: massive Jupiter-Uke planets at great distances from the 
host star, with ten- to hundred-year orbital periods, and 
small Earth-like planets in smaller orbits of a few months to 

Not only do worlds exist outside our own 
Solar System, but planets are probably at 
least as common as stars themselves. 

a few years, all travehng in stately near-circles. The twenty- 
eight planets that have been located since 1995, however, 
have delightililly confounded these expectations. 

While current technology can detect only giant planets 
with the approximate mass of Jupiter, about halt these plan- 
ets have been found to have orbits that, within our own 
Solar System, would He between the Sun and its closest 
planet, bHstering-hot Mercury. Michel Mayor, who along 
with Didier Queloz discovered the first of these close-in 
planets around the star 51 Pegasi in 1995, has dubbed them 
Hot Jupiters. Nearly all the other planets discovered thus far, 
although not so shockingly close to their host stars, move in 
highly eccentric, egg-shaped orbits. These deeply surprising 
findings have stimulated theorists to generate new models of 
planetary formation and evolution. 

We already knew that planets form m the disks of gas and 
dust that surround young protostars. (Such formations have 
now been directlv observed around most of the nearby 






^-^V^Vne^^'V ^^'' ^^' <y 










new planet swims into his ken," John Keats 

young stars by ground-based telescopes and by the Hubble 
Space Telescope.) The disk swaddles the protostar for its first 
few million years of existence and is then shed like a cocoon 
when the newly "turned on" star emerges, its nuclear flir- 
nace igniting and Uterally blowing away the remaining gas 
and dust. But now, new theoretical models show that an 
embedded protoplanet within the disk might be driven to- 
ward, rather than away from, the star. If conditions are right, 
the planet will end up in a stable orbit "parked" just outside 
the star, although in many cases the planet may fall all the 
way in and be cannibalized by its parent. 

Planets that survive the disk phase of formation and evo- 
lution face another danger: interactions with other planets. 


In a system of multiple Jupiter-mass planets, many iTiight 
survive in stable orbits for millions or even billions of years 
but then chaotically, violently interact. At that point, some 
planets would be thrown into tighter orbits and others 
would be thrown out. The resulting orbits would all be ec- 
centric and egg-shaped. Something hke this would have 
happened in the Solar System if Saturn had ended up being 
twice as massive as it is. A Jupiter— Saturn interaction, Uke an 
encounter of billiard balls on a gravitationally warped pool 
table, would have disrupted the orbital stabUity of the "Httle 
worlds" of the inner Solar System and devastated the possi- 
bihty of higher life's emergence on Earth. 

The first twenty extrasolar planets were all found in 





"And may not every one of the stars or suns have as great a retinue of planet 

siiii^lc-pl.iiR't systems — not smprisiiii;, gi\'cii tin.' ,ulolL'Si.'ont 
st.itc i)t\iirront pl.nK-t-luiiitinu; tcchiuiloi;)'. At this st.ii;c, uv 
can find tlicsc Jiipitci-nuiss planets only by observing their 
repeating orbits at least twice. Since the oldest survey ot ex- 
trasolar planets has been under way for only twelve years, we 
can at present detect planets with orbital periods of, at most, 
six years. The discovery of a multiple-planet system requires 
some luck: wed have to chance upon a system of two or 
nuiiv |upiter-mass planets, all relatiwlv close to their central 
star and moving in tortuitously stable orbits. 

Amazingly, one such system has emerged. Upsilon An- 
dromedae (see "Strange New Worlds," Natural History, Sep- 
tember 1999), a star visible to the naked eye in clear, dark 
skies far from city lights, has three planets with masses of 
roughly one, two, and four times that of Jupiter and respec- 
tive orbits of 4.f) da\s, S months, and 3.5 years. The inner- 
most planet in the system travels in a circular orbit, as do all 
the Hot jupiters. In contrast, the outer two planets are in ex- 
tremely eccentric orbits, suggesting that gravitational scat- 
tering may have played an important role in shaping this sys- 
tem. Since the Upsilon Andromedae system includes both a 
Hot Jupiter and eccentric planets, it may serve as a key to 
our understanding of planet formation and evolution. 

While Upsilon Andromedae reassures us that systems of 
multiple planets are probably common, we still yearn to find 
planet systems that remind us of home, of our own Solar 
System. We want to know whether such systems are com- 
mon or rare. Is the Milky Way galaxy littered with analogs ot 
the Solar System, or is our little band ot planets improbably 
fortunate to be moving in stable, life-protecting, nearly cir- 
cular orbits? Since a Jupiter-mass planet at Jupiter's distance 
from its parent star takes about twelve years to complete a 
single orbit, and since we need to observe at least two orbits 
to determine with certaints' that what we're monitoring is a 
planet, the current Doppler-etfect surveys won't complete a 
preliminary search for a true analog of our Solar System 
until at least 2010. 

The indirect, Doppler-etFect detection of back-and-forth 
wobbling will continue to account for most ot the next dec- 
ade's extrasolar planet discoveries. Planet-hunting astronomers 
in the United States, Europe, and Ausn-alia are now surveying 
the nearest 2,000 stars trom telescopes in the Northern and 
Southern Hemispheres. By decade's end, these surveys will 
have provided hints about the proportion of planetary systems 


in our gal.ixy that are similar to our Solar System. 

Hut teams of scientists and engineers are also developing 

technologies that allow direct detection of a planet-hosting 
star's side-to-side motion against the celestial backdrop. Fore 
most among these is optical interferometry, a method of 
combining beams from two or more telescopes to produce 
an unprecedentedly precise measurement of a star's position. 
The first ot these optical combiners should be working at the 
two l(l-meter Keck telescopes in Hawaii within the next 
year, and soon at'terward at the four S-meter telescopes of the 
European Southern C^bservatory in Chile. These systems 
should be able to detect intermediate-mass planets (those 
with a mass similar to that of Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn). 
Interterometric observations made above the blurring ef- 
fect of Earth's atmosphere would allow even more precise 
measurements. NASA's Space Interferometry Mission 
(SIM), due to begin within seven years, would be able to 
detect planets with masses as small as tive to ten Earths and 
with orbital periods ot five years or less. Next-generation 

About half of the iieufouiid planets move in 
highly eccentric, egg-shaped orbits. 

space interferometers, such as the proposed NASA Terres- 
trial Planet Finder and the European DARWIN Mission, are 
tentatively scheduled to launch within fifteen years. These 
are projects designed to allow scientists to direcdy "see" 
Earth-Uke planets orbiting nearby stars and to search for ev- 
idence of water and life on these worlds. 

For centuries, the priman' goal of extrasolar planet re- 
search was simply to find one example. Now we've found 
twenty-eight, and our questions continue to race ahead of 
our primitive technologies. We want to tind analogs to the 
Solar System, with Saturn- to Jupiter-mass planets in circu- 
lar orbits the diameter of Jupiter's. We want to find the in- 
termediate-mass, Neptune-Uke planets and also the small. 
Earth-mass planets. We want a broad understanding of the 
fornaation and evolution of planetan,' systems. 

Ultimately, though, we want to know how often we can 
expect to find stars with eleganriy arranged systems ot plan- 
ets in mutually stable, circular orbits that might support 
small, blue-water worlds. B\- 2020, we mav ha\-e the first 

ghmmer of an answer. 













- -^^^€^t^ 

/^ c^S^^V^;^^ 

ith moons to wait upon them as has our own Sun?'' Chn'stiaan Huygens 


COSMO S 2000/GAtAXIES natural history 2/00 

CannibaLs of the Cosmos 

Galaxies have to fight for survival, 
just like everything else in the universe. 
And now they have their own theory 
of evolution. 

By Michael Shara 

As with snowflakes, no two galaxies are identical. Even 
in 1935, when the Hayden Planetarium opened in 
New York City only a decade after astronomer 
Edwin Hubble had determined exactly what galaxies 
are, astronomers appreciated this basic fact. What they didn't 
understand was how galaxies come to differ — the evolution- 
ary processes that change them over biUions of years. 

Since then, three generations of observational and theo- 
retical astrophysicists have succeeded in demonstrating that 
the appearance and evolution of galaxies are largely driven 
by coUisions; that a collision between two galaxies lasts 
about 100 million years; that about a billion pairs of galaxies 
are colliding right now; and that these coUisions were even 
more common 5 bilhon to 10 biUion years ago, when the 
universe was much more dense. 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, observations 
made with increasingly powerful telescopes led many as- 
tronomers to suggest that faint, fuzzy, spiral-shaped patches 
of light all over the sky might be "island universes" — galax- 
ies equal in magnificence to our own Milky Way. In 1925 
Hubble proved that these objects were made of biUions of 
stars, at distances of millions of light-years from Earth. 

In effect, galaxies became the flora and fauna of the cos- 
mos. Just as biologists began early on to group plants and an- 
imals into families, seeking to classify the vast diversity of 
living creatures (and hoping these efforts would ultimately 
lead to discerning an order in nature), so astronomers of the 
early and mid-twentieth century proposed galaxy classifica- 
tions based on shape, luminosity, and stellar content. 

One of the first and most influential of these attempts was 
Hubble's "tuning-fork diagram," so called because he traced 
two distinct evolutionary paths that galaxies might foUow out 


















N^*'" s^-^ V 


''There is nothing like astronomy to pull the stuff out of man. His stupid dream, 

'^ ^,X^^' S^^"- eV^^ ^s^^ S<^^' 

(/ red-rooster importance: let him count the star-swirls/' Robinson Jeffers 

COSMOS 2000/GALAXIES natural history 

of a common developmental "handle." Although the dia- 
gram continues to appear in introductory astronomy texts, 
many of its specifics are now obsolete. Still, it established the 
general categories into which virtually every galaxy fits: pin- 
wheel (spiral), round, elliptical, or chaotically shapeless. 

Yet it wasn't until 1972 and the Astrophysical Journal's 
pubHcation of the monumental paper "Galactic Bridges and 
Tails," by two astrophysicist brothers working at the Massa- 
chusetts Institute of Technology, that galaxy-evolution the- 
ory got its own Origin of Species. Just as Charles Darwin's 
theory accounted for vast numbers of observations by thou- 
sands of naturalists, so the conclusions of Alar and Juri 
Toomre provided a comprehensive new way of looking at 
the data on galaxies that had accumulated over the course of 
the century. What the Toomre brothers simply and elegantly 
demonstrated, through both hypotheses and computer sim- 
ulations, was that a close encounter between two galaxies — 
whether a near miss or a direct hit — usually has profoundly 
disruptive effects on both. To appreciate why this is true, a 
brief detour into the packed doriTiitories of galaxies and the 
spacious estates of stars is necessary. 

The universe is far more crowded with galaxies, rela- 
tively speaking, than galaxies are crowded with stars. For ex- 
ample, to reach our nearest star (after the Sun), Proxima 
Centauri, you would need to string together 100 iniUion 
Suns. By contrast, to reach our nearest galactic neighbor, the 
Andromeda galaxy, you'd need only twenty-five Milky 
Ways. Isolated stars similar to our Sun move through space 
for billions of years with no chance of encountering other 
stars. But many (and perhaps most) galaxies have passed 
close to or collided with other galaxies during the 15-bil- 
hon-year history of the universe. 

As the universe continues to expand from its early, high- 
density state, galaxies become, on average, farther and farther 
apart (although they also tend to gather more often in rich 
clusters). In the distant past, when galaxies were closer together 
than they are today, collisions would probably have been very 
common, and galaxies residing in dense clusters would have 
been even more likely to suffer encounters. Recent Hubble 
Space Telescope observations of distant galaxy clusters (whose 
light began its journey to us when the universe was about half 
its present age) strongly support these hypotheses. 

What happens when two galaxies coUide? Gravitation- 
ally, the outcome can depend on several factors, including 





the rcl.itiw masses, sizes, and types of galaxies; tiieir ciirei- 
tioii iif spin; and luiw elose tliey get to eacli other. But 
galactic collisions also can have generative etlects as the gases 
from one galaxy come into contact with the gases trom the 
other, leading to a baby boom ot stars and star clusters. 
Many thousands of types ot galactic interactions are possible, 
and their outcomes can range from benign to catastrophic. 
Fortunately for astrophysicists, only a few simple rules gov- 
ern intich ot what h.ippens during a close encounter. 

Ewry one ot the billions ot stars in a galaxy is gravita- 
tionally attracted toward all the stars in its own and all other 
galaxies. The stars that are nearest to one another in two 
convergent galaxies, however, experience the strongest at- 
tractions and accelerations. The result is that both galaxies 
"stretch" as stars are diverted by varying degrees in different 
parts of the colliding system. The longer that stars are ex- 
posed to these stretching forces, the greater will be the up- 
heaval in star orbits and galaxy shapes. 

The Toonire brothers' computer simulations showed that 
two galaxies slowly sweeping by each other and rotating in op- 
posite directions (a hypothetical case that maximizes interac- 
tion time) can strip large numbers of stars out of each galaxy. 
This stripping process creates the long bridges and tails (the ev- 
idence of stars escaping both systems) that had already been 
observed but had, only a tew years earlier, seemed inexplicable 
to astrophysicists. The match between long-standing observa- 
tions and the Toomre brothers' theory was exquisite — far too 
close to be coincidence. The simulation clearly explained how 
a close encounter dramatically distorted both galaxies. 

A very close passage (with a distance of just a few galaxy 
diameters) can yield gravitationally mated, binary galaxies. 
Within a few hundred miUion years, the galaxies fall in on 
each other, thoroughly mixing their stars and emerging as a 
single massive gala.xy. One of these more massive galaxies 
can exert a larger gravitational puU on nearby objects than 
would either of its lighter-weight predecessors. Astrophysi- 
cists speculate that a single supermassive galaxy within a rich 
cluster ot galaxies can grow by cannibalizing its neighbors — 
and, in fact, observations reveal that at the core of many 
populous galaxy clusters is one monster elliptical galaxy. The 
evolution and eventual dissolution of galaxy clusters may be 
largely driven by collisions. 

Head-on collisions are less probable than near misses but 
produce some spectacular results. The ring galaxy shown on 












the facing page is almost certainly the debris of a direct pas- 
sage of one galaxy through the center of another. Thi 
t'reeze-trame image of a cosmic bull's-eye is fleeting; the ring 
structure is unstable and will disintegrate in a "mere" 50 
million years. 

The effects of a collision between two galaxies go be- 
yond gravitation, though. Computer simulations show that 
when spiral galaxies collide, many of their star-forming gas 
clouds are compressed by collisions with other gas clouds 
As these clouds condense, they can yield clusters of hun- 
dreds of thousands of massive suns. The beautifuUy symmet- 
rical patterns we see in many spirals are due partly to the 
clusters of births of massive stars. When these short-lived 
stars die as supernovas, the material they eject at high speeds 
triggers the compression of more gas clouds and another 

Wlten gases from one galaxy come into 
contact mth gases from another, the result is 
a baby boom of stars and star clusters. 





^-^ .^.^"^ 














wave of star formation. After losing the raw material needed 
for creating more supernovas, postcollision spiral galaxies 
become populated with aging stars, as are elliptical galaxies. 

These observed and theoretical collisions aren't the only 
evolutionary factors affecting galaxies. Others are at work even 
in isolated galaxies; in particular, hydrogen is being fiised into 
heavier elements and ejected by dying stars in ever)' galaxy (see 
"Twinkle Twinkle," page 64). This process continuously 
changes the chemical makeup of successive generations of stars 
and may also change the relative numbers of very massive stars 
and double stars. Finally, surrounding every galax\' is a massive 
component of dark matter that is detectable only through its 
gravitational exertions; how this mysterious matter affects the 
evolution of star orbits is stiU only pardy understood. 

There are other, even more subde, effects we are aware 
of, as well as many we have yet to discover. Srill. it's clear 
today, as never before, that galaxies aren't just the stately 
swirls seen through nineteenth-century instruments — or 
even the orderly cosmic companions that Hubble began 
classifying only three generations ago. They are individual 
organisms that have been undergoing dramatic, often vio- 
lent evolution right fiom the start, shortly after the big bang 
some 15 biUion years aa;o. D 



^.<^° iNsc^V^^^ ^ve-^-' 







V^^-^ ^e^"^ ,V..^^" 




ace temfles me." Blaise Pascal 


COS MPS 2000/GALAXIES natural history 2/oo 

The Big 

Mapping galaxies gives the night sky 
something that simpLy Looking at it 
won't provide: the third dimension. 

By Margaret J. Geller 

On April 26, 1920, two astronomers, Heber D. Curtis 
and Harlow Shapley, formally debated whether the 
fuzzy objects then called spiral nebulae were outside 
our own Milky Way. Curtis said they were external 
galaxies; Shapley said they weren't. Their debate marked the 
end of an era in our perception of our grandest environ- 
ment. By 1929, Edwin Hubble and others, ironically in- 
cluding Shapley himself, had shown that the universe ex- 
tends well beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way. 

Today we know that our universe may well be infinite 
and that the farthest reaches of the visible portion — the part 
we can explore — are 15 billion light-years away. The quest 
for a map of this dauntingly large universe began promptly, 
once astronomers understood what to map. 

By the time the American Museum— Hayden Planetar- 
ium opened its doors, on October 3, 1935, Shapley was en- 
gaged in a new debate, this time with Hubble. The subject 
was the arrangement of galaxies in the universe. Hubble, 
with access to the 2.5-meter telescope on Mount Wilson, 
outside Los Angeles, probed deep into the universe over 
small areas of the sky. He counted faint galaxies and argued 
that on large scales, the universe is remarkably uniform. 
Shapley, limited to smaller telescopes, worked with Adelaide 
Ames to construct a shallow catalog, extending over the en- 
tire sky, of the few thousand galaxies nearest the Milky Way. 
Whereas Hubble emphasized regularity, Shapley focused on 
irregularity. He noticed that in his catalog, clumps of galax- 
ies covered large regions of the sky. He was ignored. 

In 1938 Fritz Zwicky, an inspired maverick, picked up 


Shapley 's thread. He suggested that clusters of galaxies — col- 
lections of hundreds to thousands of galaxies Hke the MrUcy 
Way — are the fundamental building blocks of the universe. 
Zwicky, like Shapley before him, used a fairly small tele- 
scope to photograph the entire northern sky. He then mea- 
sured the two-dimensional positions on the sky — the lati- 
tudes and longitudes — for 30,000 individual nearby galaxies 
in these photographs. Zwicky 's catalog, pubHshed in the 




-^^^^ ^P 







o ^ 

° °o 









'■'■' '• 





V ° 




° « ° 

/ d^ 

_oJ,^ o^C^ 

. • <• 



O o ° Tl 

o o 




O O CO ° 




0° O 

A slice of the 

universe: Galaxies 


clump together, with 


enormous voids in between 

the clumps. In this image, blue 

indicates spirals like the Milky Way, 

and red indicates elliptical galaxies. 












'Let your soul stand cool and compose 

I '■'()( Is, was the l.uiiKhiiii; p^icl tor the transition from .1 twt)- 
diinensioiial to .1 thivi.-i.linK-nsion,il \ic\\ ot the iinnerse. 

Tlie l')70s iishca-d 111 .1 iv\olution in otir .ibiHty to c.ilcu- 
l.itc the distances to galaxies and tluis to map the iiniwrse 111 
tliree dimensions. Instead ot piiotographk plates, uhieh regis- 
ter at best a tew percent ot tlie hght striking diem, astronomers 
Lx-gan to use detectors similar to tlie ones in digitiil cameras 
today. These more sensitive solid-state charge-coupled device 

(CX;i )) detectors are crucial for analyzing the spectra of distant 
gala.\ies. To record a spectrum, we spread the galaxy light out 

into its colors, just as a prism does for sunlight. 

Hubble t'lrst showed the more distant a galaxy is, the 
greater the shit't of t'eatures in its spectrum toward longer, 
redder wavelengths. This "redshift," or stretching, ot light 
occurs because of the expansion ot the universe. The red- 
shift is proportional to the distance to the galaxy. 

Today Hubble's relation 
I between redshift and distance 
g is the fiindamental tool we use 
S to make the transition from 
I two-dimensional to three-di- 
i mensional maps of the uni 
I verse. To derive the third di 
s mension, we record the 
i spectrum tor each galaxy in a 
3 two-dimensional map like 
i Zwicky's. When Hubble and 
° his collaborators measured 
I redshit'ts for very nearby 

< bright gala.xies. it took all 

< night on a 2.5-meter tele- 
g scope. Today the same mea- 
1 surement takes less than a 
5 minute on a smaller telescope 
S Technological advances have 
I made ours the age ot mapping 
I the universe. 

Two-dimensional maps of 
the positions of galaxies across 
the sky hide the rich three 
dimensional texture of the 
universe uncovered by sys 
teniatic redshift measure 
nients. Teams of astronomers 
have now mapped about .001 
percent of the volume of the 
visible universe — about the 
fraction of Earth that is co\'- 
cred by the state of FUiode Is- 
land. Although the coverage is 
small, the ob\"ious patterns in 
these maps are surprising. 




















2fore a million universes/' Walt Whitman 

In 1986 my work at Harvard with my colleague John 
Huchra and graduate student Valerie de Lapparent provided 
unequivocal evidence that there are very large and weU- 
defmed patterns in the distribution of galaxies. The pattern 
of galaxies in our three-dimensional slice of the universe sug- 
gested that sheets, or walls, containing thousands of galaxies 

The patterns in the universe are similar to 
the bubbles in the kitchen sink — enlarged 
about a thousand trillion trillion times. 

A deep view: In 1998 the HubbLe Space Telescope peered down a 12- 
billion-light-year corridor, revealing a dazzling assortment of never- 
before-seen galaxies in the Southern Hemisphere sky. 

mark the boundaries of vast dark regions nearly devoid of 
galaxies. Some of these walls extend for hundreds of millions 
of light-years. The patterns in the universe are similar to a 
household sponge or to bubbles in the kitchen sink enlarged 
about a thousand trillion trillion times. 

Maps are changing our picture of the nearby universe. 
Astronomers are beginning to define its "continents" and 
"oceans." But even with these maps we cannot yet say that 
we have seen the largest patterns in nature. Several ambitious 
projects to map larger portions of the nearby universe are 
under way. These maps may tell us how galaxies mark the 
distribution of matter in the universe, but they wQl not teU 
us how galaxies or the patterns they make originated. 

Theory asserts that the enormous, rich patterns we 
observe today originated as gravity caused the growth of 
very small lumps and bumps in the matter distributed 
through the early universe. During the past 15 billion 
years or so, galaxies and the network of structures they 
inhabit developed from the smooth early sea of matter 
and radiation. 

Computer models produce spectacular images of the 
evolution ot the universe, but there is no model as subtly 
beautiful as the natural world we observe directly. Today we 
are in the process of making the "real universe" movie, a 
journey in space and in time. When we look out in space, 
we look back in time. Nearly the entire history of the uni- 
verse is there for us to see and record. 

All the information we have about the universe is carried 
to us by ancient Hght. These photons travel to us for hun- 
dreds of miUions, even biUions, of years without hitting any- 
thing. They end their journey in our detectors and answer 
age-old questions. Large telescopes on the ground, coupled 
with space observatories such as the Hubble Space Tele- 
scope, wiU slowly give us the firames of our movie. Ob- 
servers have already seen that when the universe was only a 
few billion years old, there were walls of galaxies — walls 
similar to the nearby ones. Of course, maps of the distant 
universe are now limited to very small regions and may be a 
deceptive guide to our history. 

Our children's grandchildren wUl probably have a picture 
of the entire universe. That we ask questions about the uni- 
verse — that we are driven to explore it and understand it — 
is an awesome part of being human. That we can answer 
these questions is even more remarkable. D 


















7 offer the modest proposal that the universe is simply one of thosi 



Genesis: The Sequel 

In the beginning was the big bang. 
But what exactly banged? How did 
it bang? And what happened 
before it banged? Inflation theory 
offers some answers. 

By Alan H. Guth 

Although the study ot the origin ot tlie universe is in 
some sense one of tlie oldest sciences, cosmology as 
we know it today — ,i br.mch of astronomy dealing 
with the origin and structure of the universe — was 
in its infancy in 1935, when the Ha\den Planetarium first 
opened. Just six years earlier, Edwin Hubble had discovered 
the expansion of the universe. Not only did this revolution- 
ary insight overturn the age-old assumption of a static uni- 
verse, but it initiated an etTort among physicists and as- 
tronomers to trace this newtbund expansion to its 
beginning — to what we would today call "the big bang." 

Over the decades, the big bang theory has become the 
framework of contemporary cosmology. It elegantly de- „ 
scribes how the early universe expanded and cooled and t 
how matter clumped to form galaxies and stars. While 
tiiere's never any guarantee that a scientific theory is correct, 
the big bang theory has passed a number of persuasive tests, 
including the 1965 discovery, by American physicists Arno 
A. Penzias and Robert W. Wilson, of a microwave hiss that 
matched predictions for the afterglow of die heat of the big 
bang. In 1993 the COBE (Cosmic Back^iviiiid Explorer) satel- 
lite made far more precise measurements of this radiation, 
verifying that its properties are just what scientists expected. 
Yet for all its striking successes, the big bang theory in its tra- 
ditional form remained incomplete. 

In tact, the big bang theory has never really been the the- 
ory of a bang at all. It describes the qftcniiatli of a bang — the 
ongoing ballooning of space itselt as the matter ot the uni- 
verse flies apart. But the theory says nothing about what 
caused this spectacular expansion. It gives not even a clue 


about \\ bangeii, what caused it to bang, or what hap- 
pened before it banged. 

In other words, the theory sheds no light on the under- 
lying physics of the primordial fireball — and with good rea- 
son. Not until the 197ns did physicists develop an accurate 
enough theory of elementary particles to justiB,- extrapola- 
tion to the extraordinary temper.iturcs and pressures ot the 
early universe. At about this same time, the evidence for the 
big bang theory became convincing enough for the scien- 
tific community to take it seriously. Thus, in the study of 
the first fraction of a second of the universes e.xistence, par- 
ticle physicists and cosmologists reached common ground 
Their combined efforts led to what we now know as infla- 
tion theory — a description of the driving force behind the 
expansion of the universe and a source of plausible answers 
to the c]uestions of what banged, how it banged, and more. 

According to inflarion theory, cosmic expansion was pro- 
pelled by a peculiar material that turned gravity on its head, 
generating a repulsive, rather than an attractive, gravitational 
force. The proposal that the laws of physics should allow such 
a material is not a blind hypothesis but rather a prediction that 
arises from the combining ot modern particle theon,- with 

conditions a" 


















hings which happen from time to time." Edward Tiyon 


COSMOS 2000/COSMOLOGY natural history 2/00 

general relativity A patch of the early universe may have be- 
come filled with this repulsive-gravity material in a number of 
ways, but they would all have led to the same result. Inflation 
is like a wildfire taking over a forest: whether the fire was 
started by a match, a candle, or lightning, the outcome is 
much the same. The inflating patch would grow exponen- 
tially, doubling and redoubUng. During the first triUionth of a 
triHionth ot a trillionth of a second of the universe's existence, 
the volume of the universe grew by at least a factor of 10^^ — 
about as much as it did during the next rrdllion years. 

After a hundred or more doubhngs, the repulsive-gravity 
material would decay, much Hke a radioactive substance. 
The energy released would produce a hot, uniform soup of 
particles — the assumed starting point of traditional big bang 
theory. Here inflation theory joins the big bang theory, leav- 
ing all the successful big bang predictions intact. If inflation 

During the first trillionth of a trillionth of a 
trillionth of a second, the volume of the 
universe grew by at least a factor of 10^\ 

theory is right, essentially all the matter in the universe was 
created during the inflationary expansion. The universe is 
the ultimate firee lunch. 

Because inflation theory describes the bang itself, it can 
explain a number of previously mysterious features of the 
cosmos. One is the extreme uniformity of the universe on 
very large scales. If we divided space into cubes of 300 mil- 
Uon Hght-years or more on each side, we would find that 
each cube closely resembled the others in all its average 
properties — mass density, galaxy density, hght output, and so 
on. This large-scale uniformity is seen in galaxy surveys, but 
the cosmic background radiation provides the most dramatic 
evidence, showing that the temperature of the early universe 
was uniform to better than one part in 100,000. 

Aside from inflation, no known mechanism can explain 
this uniformity. Before inflation theory was proposed, cos- 
mologists had no choice but to postulate that the universe 
somehow began with an almost perfectly uniform tempera- 
ture. Inflation theory changes this picture, inserting an enor- 
mous growth spurt into cosmic history. Prior to this spurt, 
when the region we are currently observing was less than 
/w the size that traditional big bang theory had assigned it. 

there was plenty of time for it to come to a uniform tem- 
perature, just as a slice of pizza cools to room temperature 
after being taken from the oven. Once this tiny region be- 
came uniform, inflation stretched it so much that it now en- 
compasses everything we can see. 

While the universe on the grandest scale may be remark- 
ably uniform, it's not entirely uniform. Just look at galaxies 
and galactic clusters and sheets of galactic clusters (see "The 
Big Picture," page 74); inflation theory, it turns out, can ex- 
plain these nonuniformities, too. According to quantum 
mechanics, the duration of the inflationary era would have 
varied slightly from place to place, and these variations man- 
ifested themselves in faint but crucial ripples in the matter 
density of the early universe — the seeds, in effect, that even- 
tually would sprout into galaxies. Today we can observe 
these ripples indirectly, in the extremely fine variations they 
produced in the cosmic microwave background. Data from 
the COBE sateUite and ongoing terrestrial experiments have 
so far been consistent with the predictions, which will be 
tested more precisely by upcoming space missions: the Mi- 
crowave Anisotropy Probe (MAP), set for 2000, and the Planck 
Surveyor, tentatively scheduled for 2007. 

Finally, the simplest versions of inflation theory make a 
prediction for the overall mass density of the universe — an 
important quantity that has recently acquired additional rel- 
evance. Within the past several years, the foundations of cos- 
mology have been shaken by new observations of how the 
universe's expansion rate has been changing. By using dis- 
tant supernovas as distance indicators, two groups of as- 
tronomers have found that the rate at which galaxies were 
receding from one another 5 billion years ago appears to 
have been lower than it is today. Thus it seems Hkely, al- 
though still uncertain, that the cosmic expansion is acceler- 
ating. This suggests that the vacuum — empty space — has the 
same repulsive-gravity property that inflation theory attrib- 
utes to the material of the early universe. 

The idea that repulsive gravity is generated by a vacuum 
was introduced in 1917 by Einstein, who called it the cosmo- 
logical constant. He used this idea to explain why his static- 
universe model would not collapse under the force of normal 
gravity but abandoned it when Hubble's observations showed 
that the universe is expanding. The reemergence of the con- 
cept of a cosmological constant comes as a surprise to most 
cosmologists, although in many ways it is a welcome one. 



\^* •a^'^ -^^^ ^e^^ \<!^^ 


'Not only does God definitely play dice, but He sometimes confusi s 

A cc)siiK)li) CDiist.iiit woLili-l bc p.iniculail)' i;ih)(.I news 
for enthusiasts of iiiHation theory. First of all, it would cleinoii- 
strate that repulsive gravity — the hallmark of inflation — is not 
just a theoretical possibility but a realit>'. More important, it 
would iieip resolve a discrepancy: the simplest versions ot infla- 
tion tiieory predict that the universe should contain three to 
tiiur times more mass than astronomers have so iar been able to 
find. A cosmological constant would lead to the surprising 
conclusion that empty space has a mass density, and the super- 
nova observations indicate that this density is just right (within 
uncertainties) to bring the total up to the predicted v;rlue. Tliis 
viilue is iilso in accord with a mass-density esrimate based on 
cosmic background radiation experiments. While the implica- 
tions of the superno\a data and the cosmic background data 
are debatable, the agreement of diese measurements with each 
other and with inHadon theory leads to a persuasive picaire. 

In the ne.xi miUcnnuini, I think, inHation theory will con- 
tinue to play a major role in shaping our understanding of how 
the universe got to be the way it is. This does not mean, how- 
ever, that the most important problems have been solved. The 
concept of inflation is really a paradigm, not a detailed theory. 
Many versions of it have been put forth, and no doubt many 
more will appear. We still cannot idendfy die dark matter that 
makes up more than '.lO percent ot the mass ot gala.xies, and the 
physics that might uiulerlie a cosmological constant remains a 
total mystery. Meanwhile, observarional cosmology is becom- 
ing a precision science, rapidly accumulating data on the cos- 
mic background radiadon, the distribution of matter, and the 
composirion of the universe. While I feel confident that infla- 
rion theory is basically correct, I suspect the final version will 
differ in many ways from anything so far proposed — and 
maybe even anything we can at present imagine. D 

by throwing them where they cannot be seen/' Stephen Hawking 


CO S M OS 2000/MATTER natural history 2/00 

The Heart of Matter 

Physicists are still asking, What's the 
universe made of? String theorists think 
they may know, and their new discipline 
is zeroing in on a theory of everything. 

By Brian Greene 

Nearly 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greeks asked a 
seemingly simple question that has wended its way 
through the ages and is stiU very much with us: 
What is the universe made of? That is, what are the 
fundamental ingredients out of which everything in the 
heavens and on Earth is composed? Or, to put the question 
another way, if you take any object whatsoever — a block of 
wood, a chunk of iron — and you cut it in half and then cut 
that half in half again, and keep cutting on and on, what is 
the most basic constituent you wiU ultimately come upon? 

Democritus proclaimed that you would come upon 
what he called atoms, from the Greek for "uncuttable." By 
the late 1800s, scientists had realized that substances such as 

According to string theory, the irreducible 
constituent of the universe is a vibrating 
thread, not a pointlike particle. 

oxygen and carbon did in fact have a smallest recognizable 
constituent, which (taking their cue from Democritus) they 
christened atoms.Yet over the next few decades, experiments 
revealed that atoms, contrary to the ancient Greek concep- 
tion, surely must be cuttable, since they were an agglomera- 
tion of smaller particles: a swarm of electrons orbiting a cen- 
tral nucleus containing protons and neutrons. Moreover, in 
the early part of the twentieth century, physicists showed 
that understanding the behavior of these constituents meant 
replacing nineteenth-century ideas about matter and energy 
with the strange new laws of quantum mechanics. And by 
the early 1 930s, physicists studying quantum mechanics real- 


ized that it required one of the most dramatic upheavals sci- 
ence has ever experienced: Science could no longer be ex- 
pected to predict with certainty the outcome of experi- 
ments. In the microscopic realm, quantum mechanics 
showed that science could only predict the probability that a 
particular outcome might occur. 

Although Albert Einstein contributed significantly to 
the early development of quantum mechanics, he focused 
much of his attention on gravity, a force that has its great- 
est relevance in the vastly larger realm of stars and galaxies. 
His general theory of relativity, proposed in 1916, correctly 
predicted the bending of starlight by the Sun and explained 
Edwin Hubble's 1929 measurements indicating that the 
universe is expanding. But Einstein had even bigger plans. 
Perhaps, he mused, the universe could be explained by a 
"unified theory" — a single master framework that would 
describe physics out to the farthest reaches of the cosmos 
and down to the smallest speck of matter. Einstein relent- 
lessly pursued a unified theory, but he ultimately came up 
empty-handed. To some extent, Einstein "failed" because 
many things about the workings of the universe were 
either stiU unknown or, at best, poorly understood during 
his lifetiine. 

For example, the first particle accelerators for studying 
the microscopic architecture of matter were built in the late 
1920s. By the late 1960s, the resolving power of these ma- 
chines had increased enormously, allowing physicists to re- 
veal another layer of matter's substructure: each proton and 
neutron, it was shown, is composed of three smaller particles, 
dubbed quarks. The proton consists of two "up" quarks and 
one "down" quark, while the neutron consists of two downs 
and one up. The detailed study of subnuclear interactions 
also estabUshed convincingly that two other forces besides 
gravity and electromagnetism are at work in nature: the 
weak nuclear force, which is responsible for radioactive 
decay, and the strong nuclear force, which is responsible for 
tightly binding quarks inside protons and neutrons and for 
cramming protons and neutrons inside the nuclei ot atoms. 
Increasingly powerfixl atom smashers (today's accelerators are 
more than a million times more powerful than those of 




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v^^*^ .O'^ 'S^^^ 



< 1 









<(\<^^^^<>''" ^^''' 


'Everything should be made as simple a 

ossihle, but not simpler/' Albert Einstein 


C S M OS 2 OOP/MATTER natural history 2/00 

1930) have as yet found no evidence of any additional fim- 
damental forces beyond these four. But they have revealed 
four more species of quarks (whimsically called charm, 
strange, top, and bottom) and have repeatedly confirmed the 
existence of a handful of other particles (known as neutri- 
nos) and of two close cousins of the electron (called muons 
and taus). 

If you're having trouble keeping track of all the forces 
and the particles of matter, you'll welcome the modern re- 
formulation of Einstein's goal of a unified theory: a theoret- 
ical framework that would show all four forces to be distinct 
manifestations of a single underlying force and would also 
estabUsh a rationale for the presence of the particular species 
of apparently fundamental particles. 

The first step toward this goal was taken by Steven Wein- 
berg, Abdus Salam, and Sheldon Glashow, who in the 1960s 
proposed that the familiar electromagnetic force and the 
comparatively less well known weak nuclear force are inti- 

mately related. These physicists argued that although the 
weak and the electromagnetic forces have vastly different 
characteristics in the world around us, if the cosmic clock 
were rolled back to an early stage in the universe — ^less than 
a millionth of a iniUionth of a second after the big bang, 
when the temperature was some million billion degrees 
Celsius — these two forces would combine into a single 


force, somewhat the way a bouillon cube and water will 
form a homogenous broth when brought to a vigorous boU. 
By the mid-1980s, a central prediction of this proposed elec- 
troweak theory — the existence of certain crucial particles, 
known as Ws and Zs, that would perform the same force- 
carrying function in weak interactions that photons do in 
electromagnetic interactions — had been confirmed by the 
accelerator at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics 
(CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. This represented a major 
step forward in the quest for unification. 

The standard model of particle physics today encom- 
passes both the electroweak theory and the theory of the 
strong nuclear force (known as quantum chromodynamics) . 
Virtually all data recorded by particle accelerators the world 
over can be explained with this model; its creation has truly 
been a monumental achievement. There are, nevertheless, 
two main reasons physicists still aren't satisfied. 

First, the gravitational force is completely left out of the 
standard model. This omission creates a terribly thorny issue. 
The standard model, being a theory that describes micro- 
scopic processes, embraces quantum mechanics. But the 
problem of merging quantum mechanics with general rela- 
tivity (a theory that describes macroscopic processes) has 
stumped physicists for more than half a century. Second, the 
standard model utihzes twenty or so numbers that have been 
established through decades of fastidious research — numbers 
such as the comparative strengths of the strong, weak, and 
electromagnetic forces, as well as the masses of the funda- 
mental particles — but as a theory it offers no insight whatso- 
ever into why these key parameters take the values they do. 
This marks a profound gap in our understanding, for if the 
value of some of these parameters had been even shghtly dif- 
ferent, the nuclear processes that power stars would Hkely 
have been disrupted, and without stars the universe would 
be a very different place. 

These objections to the standard model are hard to 
counter, and many physicists beHeve that progress requires a 
radically new approach. During the past decade, the most 
promising possibility has been based on the notion of "su- 
perstrings." Superstring theory abandons the previous con- 
ception of particles as being pointlike — that is, having no 
spatial extent. Instead the theory envisages the elementary 
constituents to be tiny, one-dimensional threadlike loops or 
snippets, which for want of a more clever name are called 





'What we know is insigm'ffcant. What we d 

strings. Atiordiiig tci the theory, every elementary particle, if 
ex.\muK\i \\ itli a precision iiuuiy orders of magnitude greater 
than what vvc are able to nuister today, would be seen to 
contain one ot these dancing, vibrating strings. And just as a 
violin's string can vibrate in ditTerent patterns, thus produc- 
ing different musical notes, string theory's fundamental 
^trings can also vibrate in different patterns. But instead of 
producing various tones, these patterns give rise to the dis- 
tiiR t elementary particles. An electron is a string vibrating in 
one pattern, a quark is a string vibrating in another, and so 
on for all the other particles. The vibrational pattern of a 
string encodes the properties of the corresponding particle 
(its mass, its electric charge, its spin) and so may be thought 
of as the particle's "fingerprint." 

Thus die universe, rather than being built horn a long list of 
different particles, according to string theory has one Rmda- 
mcntal ingredient — strings — and the rich variety ot observed 
particles reflects nothing more riian the various vibrational pat- 
terns that strings can execute. Moreover, even the four forces of 
nature, including gravity, are associated with strings vibrating in 
yet other patterns, and hence everything — all the particles of 
matter and all the forces by which they interact — is unified 
under die same rubric: vibratdng strings. 

However compelling a framework for a unified theory, 
superstring theory at the turn of the millennium is still very 
much a work in progress. For example, the theory's equa- 
tions are so involved that physicists have as yet been unable 
to determine whether the repertoire of vibrational patterns 
precisely accounts for the known particles and forces. The 
inabihty to clear this hurdle is due in part to another strange 
feature of the theory: it requires the universe to have more 
than the three spatial dimensions of common experience 
(left/right, back/forth, up/down). Since we don't see the 
others, they must be hidden away. 

One approach pictures these other ciimensions as being 
curled up like a piece of paper that has been rolled into a 
thin tube. The more rightly the tube is rolled up, the harder 
it becomes to see that it has a circular cross section, since this 
circular dimension gets smaller and smaller. Physicists imag- 
ine that the extra space dimensions required by superstring 
theory are so rightly curled up that equipment powerful 
enough to detect them has not yet been built. 

Although these extra dimensions are minuscule, they 
have a profound effect on the physics of string theory. The 





strings themselves .ire so small that they are able to vibrate in 
both the familiar "big" dimensions and the riny, curled-up 
dimensions. The precise size and shape of these dimensions 
affect the ways a string can vibrate, much as the twists and 
turns of a French horn affect the ways that forced air streams 
can vibrate through its interior. And since the string's vibra- 
tional patterns determine such things as parriclc masses and 
force strengths, the detailed geometry ot the extra dimen- 
sions may one day explain why the aforementioned twenty 
numbers that animate the standard model of particle physics 
would have the values they do — in essence, why the uni- 
verse is as it is. 

The experimental verification of superstring theory in 
the near future poses quite a challenge. Since strings are 
thought to be less than a billionth of a biUionth the size of an 
atom, we can't use current technolog\' to detect them di- 
recdy. An indirect test, however, will be carried out witiiin 

To fit the requirements of string theory, the 
universe must have more than the three 
spatial dimensions of common experience. 

the next decade or so by a huge atom smasher called the 
Large Hadron Collider, which is now being buUt by CERN. 
Through enormously powerful collisions, physicists hope to 
produce a number of particle species (collectively called 
sparticles) that have never before been seen but are believed 
to be an essential part of the superstring framework. An- 
other indirect test is now being carried out at Stanford Uni- 
versity and the University of Colorado at Boulder, where re- 
searchers are looking for evidence ot the required extra 
dimensions by trying to ascertain their influence on specific 
properties of the gravitational tbrce. 

Evidence for assessing this theors' may also one day be 
tbund through increasingly refined astronomical obserwi- 
tions, since superstring theory shows its true colors in ex- 
treme environments such as those associated with black 
holes and the big bang. It would surely be a wonderfully 
poetic emblem of unitlcarion if the theory- describing the 
most microscopic properties of matter — a theory answering 
that prescient question raised by the ancient Greeks — were 
one day confirmed by turning powei-fid telescopes toward 
the sky and examining the grand expanse of the cosmos. □ 






^^i^V^' 2000 

vt know is immense/' Pierre Simon de Laplace 


TECHNOLOGY natural history 2/00 

Seeing the Whole Symphc 

For four miUennia, astronomers 
were color-blind to most of the 
universe's energy spectrum. 

By David J. Helfand 

Pluck a hair from your head and hold it taut at arms' 
length. That fine Une, bisecting the background and 
reflecting a little Ught directly to your eyes, repre- 
sents about the smallest dimension your eyes can 
perceive unaided. If you don't believe this, reduce the hair's 
apparent width by having someone carry it ten times farther 
away — across the room — and watch it disappear. 
Why does it vanish? 

The Hmits on human vision were set eons ago by just two 
physical parameters, neither of which might at first seem rel- 
evant: the temperature of the surface of the Sun and the force 
of gravity on the surface of Earth. These two parameters, ac- 
cidents of the Solar System's formation 4.6 bOlion years ago, 
not only hniit the dimensions our eyes can resolve but also 
dramatically restrict the range of colors we can perceive. With 
a surface temperature of 5,800 °C, the Sun emits most of its 
energy as yeUow-green Hght, with smaller amounts of red and 
blue. Earth's gravitational pull — insufficient for the planet to 
hold on to its primordial hydrogen and heHum atmosphere 
but strong enough for it to retain oxygen and nitrogen — de- 
fmes the atmospheric filter through which radiant energy 
must pass before reaching the planet's surface. The Sun's blue 
light gets scattered around a lot (which is why the sky is blue), 
and some of the reddest rays get absorbed by molecules in the 
air, but most of the wavelengths from the Sun make it 
through. These colors, having bathed Earth for billions of 
years, are what our eyes have evolved to see. 

Putting a big telescope in tront of our eyes can compen- 
sate for our inability to perceive details at great distances, but 
it does nothing for our more profound color blindness. 
Human vision, a marvel of evolutionary adaptation and the 
most precious of our senses, turns out to be a rather poor 
instrument for observing the universe. 

An aural analogy may explain the problem. The human 
ear is sensitive to a fuU ten octaves of sound-wave frequen- 
cies — from about 20 oscillations per second (roughly one 
octave below the lowest note on a piano) to 20,000 oscilla- 
tions per second (the highest squeak of the audiologist's 
tone generator). Our instant recognition of the timbre of a 
familiar voice and our appreciation for the rich texture of an 

orchestra bringing to life the storm in Beethoven's Pastoral 
Symphony rely on the ear's ability to register a wide range 
of frequencies. The human eye, however, is sensitive to 
barely one "octave" of the electromagnetic spectrum. Trying 
to understand the universe equipped with only this very 
limited instrument is Hke trying to do justice to the "Ode to 
Joy" on a ukulele. 

Yet when the Hayden Planetarium first opened its doors 
in New York City, in October 1935, this was the as- 
tronomer's lot. Over the course of four millennia, as- 
tronomers and (eventually) astrophysicists, working first with 
the unaided eye and then with ever more powerful tele- 
scopes, had closely examined the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, 
and finally galaxies. They had conducted extraordinarily pre- 
cise studies of the motions of celestial objects, arrived at a 
model of the Solar System, and determined the distances to 
the stars. They had computed the ages and masses of stars and 
had broken down their Hght to reveal their chemical compo- 
sition. They had demonstrated that distant aggregations of 
stars were indeed galaxies distinct from our own Milky Way. 
Perhaps most remarkable, they had shown that the universe 
appears to be expanding in all directions. Not bad for ex- 
plorers almost totally blind to their surroundings. 

But what had astronomers missed over the millennia? 
Quasars and pulsars. Black holes and neutron stars. Vast 
clouds of cold organic molecules and the lOO-milUon-de- 
gree gas that can not only sufilise an entire galaxy cluster 
but actually outweigh it. The afterglow of the big bang itself. 
They missed most of the matter in the universe, most of the 
sweep of space-time, the coldest parts, the hottest parts, the 
densest parts, and the remotest parts — most of what consti- 
tutes astronomy today. 

Everything in the universe radiates energy in the form of 
electromagnetic waves that move through space at 300,000 
kilometers per second. The temperature of objects — or, 
more precisely, the energies of their constituent particles — 
determines the fi-equencies of these waves. Nothing can get 
colder than absolute zero (0° K, or -273.15° C), and no par- 
ticles can travel faster than Ught, but everything in between 
is allowed; the result is a spectrum of electromagnetic-wave 
frequencies that spans more than 100 octaves. Radio waves 
and infrared radiation, ultraviolet rays, X rays, and gamma 
rays — entities we think of as unrelated to vision — are in tact 
just labels appHed to difierent octaves in the variegated spec- 
trum of electromagnetic radiation. Our multicolored rain- 
Opposite page: The Milky Way, seen in eight different 

Molecular hydrogen 


-•-• <l^-- 


ii^^'^^ ^J^ 

Radio waves provided the first 
image of the universe outside the 
narrow hand of visible light. 

bow fits into just one octave in the middle of this broad 
spectrum — the octave we call light. 

This single octave is no more special than the octave of 
sound waves from the F sharp below middle C to the F 
sharp above it — its 
boundaries are no less 
arbitrary, and its rela- 
tionship with the adja- 
cent higher and lower 
frequencies is no less 
continuous. It is simply 
that conditions deter- 
mined by the Sun and 
Earth have conspired 
to produce living elec- 
tromagnetic sensors 
blind to all the other 

Even the Sun pro- 
duces energy in parts 
of the spectrum invisi- 

ble to us: just above the apparent surface of the Sun, the 
temperature chmbs to tens of thousands of degrees, produc- 
ing primarily ultraviolet radiation. Even farther from the 
surface, giant loops of magnetic fields coUide, raising the 
temperature to miUions of degrees and producing X rays, 
while charged particles race through the loops, generating 
bursts of radio-wave emission. To these and other phenom- 
ena we remained blind — until we began opening windows 
to other octaves in the electromagnetic spectrum. 

In 1890, just two years after the discovery of radio 
waves, Thomas Edison proposed the first experiment to 
search for cosmic sources, although no records of the exper- 
iment's execution have been found. A few years later, OHver 
Lodge attempted to detect the Sun in radio waves but dis- 
covered instead the ever-present bane of the radio as- 
tronomer's existence — man-made interference (in Lodge's 
case, from the surrounding city of Liverpool) . Numerous 
other experiments in the first decades of the twentieth cen- 
tury also failed, and it wasn't until May 5, 1933, that the 
New York Times carried the first report of invisible radiation 
from the universe, under the headline "New Radio Waves 
Traced to Center of Milky Way." 

The article described the work of a young Bell Tele- 
phone Laboratories engineer, Karl G. Jansky, who had been 
systematically identifying sources of radio static in order to 
improve ship-to-shore and transatlantic communications. In 
addition to hghtning and man-made sources, there was, he 
discovered, a signal apparently fixed with respect to the stars 
that was coining from the general direction of the center of 
the Milky Way. Although he pubHshed his results in Popular 
Astronomy as well as in a radio engineering journal, virtually 
every astronomer ignored his work, and Jansky was soon re- 
assigned to another project at BeU Labs. 

One person who did pay attention to Jansky was Grote 
Reber, a radio engineer and amateur astronomer who in 

1937 devoted $700 
(one-third of his annual 
salary) plus many 
nights and weekends to 
constructing a "radio 
telescope" in his back- 
yard in Wheaton, Illi- 
nois. Within six years, 
he had completed the 
first systematic survey 
of the sky that was 
based on radio waves. 
The results, published 
in the Astrophyskal Jour- 
nal under the title 
"Cosmic Static," iden- 
tified several regions of 

(.■iili.iiuci.1 r.KlK) ciuission aloiii; tlic pLiiic ut the Milky Way 
.uul, moiv important, provided the first image of die universe 
outside tlie narrow band of the visible spectrum. Astronomy 
would never be tlie same. 

It was not an accident the radio portion ot the spec- 
trum was the first to be exploited by astronomers: it's the only 
set of frequencies besides visible light diat can penetrate 
Earths atmosphere. To view the universe in other fret]uen- 
cies — with X-ray, ultraviolet, or infrared eyes — ^we must get 
above the absorbing blanket of air. Thus, astronomy's newer 
disciphnes couldn't develop until we had access to space. In 
1962 a small rocket carried a detector aloft for a five-minute 
glimpse of the X-ray universe. Contrary to theoretical expec- 
tadons.a brilliant X-ray "star" was seen. Even more extraordi- 
nary, the whole night sky was aglow with X rays, suggesting 
multitudes of X-ray sources awaiting discovery. Within a 
decade, rockets and satellites had been launched to scan the 
skies for objects eniitring infrared, ultraviolet, and gamma ra- 
diation. None of the experimenters was disappointed. 

The astronomical explorations of the second half of the 
twentieth century confirmed some of physics' more remark- 
able predictions ot the first half turning the entire cosmos 
into a vast experimental facility for testing extreme states of 

matter and energies unattainable in e.irthbound laburatones. 
Neutron stars with a density of a billion tons per teaspoon 
help us assess the behavior of particles in the atomic nucleus. 
Black holes allow us to probe the structure of space and time 
itself while the afterglow of the big bang allows us to set 
constraints on the fundamental structure of matter. 

With a far more complete view of the cosmos, as- 
tronomers can expand their understanding of the laws of 
nature in ways that would have been unimaginable when 
the old Hayden was built. The impact of opening new win- 
dows on the universe is perhaps best iUustrated by Martin 
Harwit's list of astronomical phenomena in his book Cosmic 
Disivi'cry. The first 4,000 years of astronomical observations 
produced twenty-six distinct discoveries that helped define 
the contents of the universe. All, ot necessity, were visible 
phenomena. Between 1940 and 1 980, seventeen additional 
fundamental discoveries were made. Only two of these were 
accomplished with visible light; the remaining fifteen came 
about because we learned to sample the universe on its own 
terms, instead of limiting our perspective to the evolution- 
ary accident of sight. For an audience confined so long to a 
single octave, it is a revelation of immense significance to fi- 
nally see the whole symphony. D 


TECHNOLOGY natural history 2/00 

The Virtual Universe 

In cyberspace, astronomers can boldly go 
where no one has gone before. 

By Mordecai-Mark Mac Low 

Ahalt-nule-widc pile of gravel .ind dirty snow luirdes 
past Jupiter, barely evading the grasp of its gravity. 
Still, the comet (for that's what this pile of debris is) 
begins to drift apart because of the feather-light 
difference between Jupiter's gravitational force on its near 
anc4 its far sides. This tidal force strews pieces of the comet 
through space until they span a distance greater than the 
separation between Earth and the Moon. During the fol- 
lowing year, bits of rubble from the ill-fated comet gravita- 
tionally reassemble themselves into a chain of twenty 
smaller objects. As Jupiter's gravity asserts itself once more, 
drawing the whole chain back toward the planet on an even 
more perilous orbit, astronomers on Earth finally notice 
that the comet is on a fatal course. 

With the whole v^orld watching, the first object in the 
chain plunges into Jupiter's atmosphere at more than 
100,000 miles per hour, becoming the mother of all meteor 
strikes. Falling beneath the ammonia clouds that form the 
visible surface of the planet, the comet fragment vaporizes 
in the white-hot heat of its shock wave, releasing the energy 
ot thousands ot nuclear bombs. On Earth, the resulting fire- 
bdl would stretch from New York to Chicago. On Jupiter, it 
blows material clear out of the atmosphere but is neverthe- 
less a mere pinprick to the giant planet. 

Tlie once-herculean task of calculating 
thousands of orbits can now be completed in 
an hour or two by a single astronomer. 

To predict, and eventually to interpret, the violent fate of 
comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 in July 1994, astronomers turned 
not just to their traditional tools — mathematical calculations 
and telescopes — but also to computer models. Computer 
modeling began just over half a century ago, initially driven 
fonvard by the race to design and build atomic weapons. As- 
tonishing increases in computer speed and memory have 
since made it into a third method of scientific investigation, 
distinct from mathematical theory and from experiment 
and observation — yet relying on both. 

In June 1993, soon afterword of the comet's potentially 

catastrophic fate began to circulate among astronomers, 
Kevin Zahnle, of NASA's Ames Research Center, called me 
to suggest that we actually begin a collaboration we'd often 
discussed, one that would combine his knowledge of aster- 
oid and comet impacts on planets with my expertise in as- 
trophysical shock waves. The first moves were made not by 
us, however, but by dynamical astronomers, who used one 
of the most fundamental mathematical descriptions of the 
physical universe: the law of gravity'. 

Mathematical computations of the orbits of objects 
under the influence ot both a planet and the Sun draw on a 
body of work stretching back more than 300 years to Isaac 
Newton. By the early twentieth century, orbit calculations 
were already being carried out by computers, although the 
word "computer" then referred not to a machine but to a 
member of an arduous profession that, as it happens, ofiered 
almost the only way available at the time for women to par- 
ticipate in astronomical research. These human computers 
could calculate single orbits but not the thousands necessary 
for constructing a model of a fi-agmenting and reassembling 
comet. Now, though, such a herculean task can be com- 
pleted in an hour or two by a single astronomer, who can 
then compare many models with the observations so as to 
find the best match. 

Opposite page: The author's computer simulations show a 
comet entering Jupiter's atmosphere in a region six miles 
across. Above: The resulting explosion covers a region 600 
miles across. 


TECHNOLOGY natural history 2/00 

The programs that compute these orbits use the princi- 
ples of high-school analytic geometry to represent the mo- 
tions of thousands of comet fragments. At the beginning of 
the computation, each firagment is assigned a position in 
space using three coordinates, along with an initial velocity 
(in the case of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, the fragments 
were initially distributed in a sphere with a diameter of just 
under a mile). Using the law of gravity, the program next 
computes the forces acting on each fragment — from Jupiter, 
from the Sun, and from every other fragment — in order to 
determine the direction and distance that each will travel 
over a very short time. The coordinates of the fragments are 
then changed to their new positions, and the time is ad- 
vanced. The program then repeats these steps, using the new 

Computing the orbits of tens of thousands of 
massive particles can demonstrate how 
galaxies develop their beautiful spiral arms. 

positions and taking into account the slightly different 
forces now acting on them because of their motion with re- 
spect to one another, to Jupiter, and to the Sun. Repeating 
this relatively simple procedure thousands or even miUions 
of times allows the computation of the entire comet 

Each of the particles in such a computer program might 
represent something the size of a boulder, as in the case of 
comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, but it might just as easily repre- 
sent a star — or even groups of tens of thousands of stars. Si- 
multaneous computations of the orbits of tens of thousands 
of such massive particles can demonstrate how galaxies de- 
velop their beautiful spiral arms. By initially placing the par- 
ticles in a uniform, rotating disk and then computing their 
interactions, astronomers find that spiral arms form when- 
ever the disk arrangement is even slightly perturbed, as a 
natural result of the gravitational interactions between the 
stars. Similarly, but on an even grander scale, computations 
of collisions between spiral galaxies show that mutual gravi- 
tational interactions disrupt the orderly disks and throw stars 
out in spectacular streamers tens of thousands of light-years 
long (see "Cannibals of the Cosmos," page 70), as observed 
in contorted objects such as the Antenna galaxy. 

These same computational techniques have led to a rev- 
olution in our understanding of the large-scale structure of 
the universe and the process of galaxy formation. Models of 
this process begin with not tens of thousands but tens of 
millions of particles, distributed through a representative re- 
gion of the universe almost uniformlyjust as matter was dis- 
tributed in the earUest centuries after the big bang. Each 
particle in the simulation now represents a mass of millions 
of stars — stiU a small fraction of the biUions of stars in a 

galaxy. ModeUng the orbits of these particles under the mu- 
tual influence of all the other particles in the region reveals 
that areas of slightly greater density attract more and more 
mass, eventually forming stars and galaxies, while areas of 
sHghtly lesser density empty out, forming cosmic voids that 
can StiU be observed today. When the models are started 
with initial conditions consistent with observations, the re- 
sulting cosmic web beautifully reproduces the distribution 
of galaxies that we observe in the universe today (see "The 
Big Picture," page 74). 

Gravity alone is sufficient for predicting the behavior of 
boulders and stars only so long as no other forces become as 
strong. In the case of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on its final 
plunge, however, the fragments screaming into the wispy 
outer reaches of Jupiter's atmosphere entered the realm of 
hypersonic gas dynamics. The basic laws of gas flow were 
described 200 years ago by Leonhard Euler, but it was not 
until the middle of the twentieth century that researchers 
developing rockets and nuclear bombs first carefuUy com- 
puted the properties of strong shock waves and massive ex- 
plosions. (To this day, classified U. S. nuclear weapons devel- 
opment centers maintain the largest computers available for 
such computations, although research centers that are open 
to all scientists offer strong competition.) When the atmos- 
phere gets dense enough, the pressure forces overwhelm the 
gravitational forces between particles and must be included 
in the model. 

Before: By following the motions of stars in galaxies that have 
begun to interact gravitationally, a computer simulation 
reveals how spiral arms form. 

This is where Z.iiink- .ind 1 entered die picture. 1 .li- 
ready computed, in other contexts, m.iiiy models that in- 
cluded pressure forces. Gas pressure varies, so to compute its 
effects, a coordinate system is set up, and a grid of points is 
defined throughout the region. At each point on the grid, 
the local pressure, densirs; and velocif)- ot the gas are noted. 
For the comet collision, I used a software package called 
ZEUS (written by Michael Norman and his colleagues at 
tiie National Center for Supercomputing Applications) to 
set up a grid covering a small region of Jupiter's atmosphere, 
with a sphere as dense as ice (representing the comet) tailing 
through the grid at many times the speed of sound. 

Because gas Hows away from regions of high pressure 
and toward regions of low pressure, the program computes 
how the gas at each point will move under the influence of 
gas at neighboring points over a very short time period. 
These motions are then used to determine how the gas 
properties stored at each point in the grid change over this 
short time. By repeating this computation thousands of 
times, we can follow the gas flow: the comet fragment 
drives a high-pressure shock wave ahead of it, while the rest 
of the atmosphere remains undisturbed until the shock wave 
hits it, heats it, and drives an explosive expansion. 

Zahnle and I based our computations of the comet's im- 
pact on previous models I had done of the effects of multi- 
ple supernova explosions on the gas between stars in the 
disks of spiral galaxies. Although the distances in these mod- 
After: The galaxy collision results in something resembling 
the Antenna galaxy — a celestial oddity. Modeling reveals its 
history and predicts it will become a massive elliptical galaxy. 

els were tens of trillions of times greater than those in the 
comet impact, and the explosion energies even more ex- 
treme, the physical mechanisms were quite similar. I scaled 
down the distances from light-years to miles by some thir- 
teen powers of ten (one followed by thirteen zeros), scaled 
down the explosion energies by even more (a factor of 
twenty-three powers of ten), and found virtually the same 
expansion of an explosion in Jupiter's stratified atmosphere 
that I had found in the galactic models. 

When interpreting computational models, we must al- 
ways keep in mind two questions. The first is. Does the 
model contain all the important physical processes? Short of 
including not just ever\' atom but ever\' electron and pho- 
ton, modeling always involves estimating how strongh' dit- 
ferent processes contribute to the situation and then decid- 
ing which processes can safely be ignored. For example, in 
my models of the comet impact, I neglected radiative heat- 
ing of the icy comet fragment by the white-hot shock tront 
below it, because of calculations by colleagues suggesting 
that radiative heating would be sHghdy less important than 
heating from the hot, shocked gas. Including the radiative 
heating would also have made the problem far more diffi- 
cult to compute — always a consideration in deciding what 
to ignore. 

The second question is. Does the numerical model actu- 
ally sunulate the physical processes we've decided to in- 
clude? If the sampling, for example, is too coarse, important 
features can be missed, but if the samphng is too fine, the 
rime needed for computing the model will be prohibitive. 
The question of how much sampling is enough arose dur- 
ing my computations of the comet impact. I reahzed that 
some of the first published models of the impact did not 
have fine enough grids to foUow the way the comet was 
torn apart by the pressure forces. Instead, the fragments in 
these models remained intact and therefore punched much 
more deeply into the atmosphere, bur\-ing their energies 
and leading to predictions of less spectacular explosions. 

Because of these two constraints, computational simula- 
tions can never stand on their o\%ti, independent ot observa- 
tion. The seeming completeness of simulations can easily se- 
duce us into believing that they give a true picture of reality- 
Poor approximations or inaccurate numerical methods, 
however, all too often \-ield attractive but incorrect models. 
Only the interplay bet^veen model and observation can 
yield reliable intbrmation about the universe around us. 

How will astrophysical computer modeling develop in 
the next decade? Computations of straightforward tliree- 
dimensional gas d\Tiamics at moderate resolution are stiU a 
recent addition to the computational scientist's tool kit. 
Now the challenge is twofold: first, to include more of the 
relevant phvsical processes, such as the chemical behavior of 
gas as it is heated to millions of degrees by hypersonic shock 


TECHNOLOGY natural history 2/00 

waves and then cools down almost to absolute zero; and sec- 
ond, to increase the resolution of the models so that, for ex- 
ample, the formation of individual galaxies can be followed 
in cosmological simulations. 

Only the interplay between model and 
observation can yield reliable information 
about the world around us. 

The new generation of supercomputers presents its own 
challenges. Rather than being very fast single processors, 
they consist of hundreds or even thousands of off-the-shelf 
microprocessors linked by very fast communications net- 
works. Programming these machines requires that all these 
individual units be coordinated without their generating the 
kind of internal traffic jams that clog the Internet. Another 
direction being pursued for increasing computational speed 
is the development of specially designed chips that can per- 
form the most time-consuming parts of the simulations 

rapidly, so that desktop processors can achieve supercom- 
puter speeds for particular types of problems. This technique 
has already proved particularly fruitful for particle simula- 
tions such as those described above. 

Finally, the never-ending struggle to win insight from 
computation will depend not just on better simulations but 
also on better analysis of the results of those simulations. 
These analyses will more and more rely on computing how 
the results would appear if the physical situation simulated 
were observed through a particular telescope, and then 
comparing these simulated observations with real observa- 
tions by that telescope. Increasingly, astrophysicists wiU at- 
tempt to understand complex observations with complex 
computer models, but always with the ultimate aim of gain- 
ing an understanding of the universe that can be confirmed 
by comparisons with observations of the real world. D 

Starting with parameters drawn from observations of the early 
universe, this computer model reproduces the distribution of 
matter in the contemporary universe. 

With so much more to see, 

you'll want to come more often. 

Especially when you have 


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7. Austravel 

Leading specialists in travel to Australia. 
From flights and hotels to coach tours and 
vehicle rental, Austravel's experienced 
Consultants will tailor make an itinerary 
to suit budgets and requirements. Call 

8. Bogen Photo Corp. 
Exelusne US distiibutor ot ultra-light, 
ONE Series carbon fiber tripods, as well 
as the aluminum alloy MANFROTTO 
TRACKER Series. ..the only tripod 
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ready for the field. Call (201) 818-9500 
or visit for info. 

|. Burpee Museum 

Midwest's largest Paleo Festi\'al! Twel\-e 

renowned paleontologists, talks, exhibits 


children's activities, and more. March 2 
through S^'^, 2000. CaU 815- 965-3433. 

10. Canadian Tourism Commission 
FREE copv of the new (IREAT 
Hiking, canoeing, cycling, wildlife 
watching and more. Detailed tour 
operator/outfitter directory. CaU 
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You'Ualso find the giude online at 

IL&sta Rica 
Costa Rr 1 IS uURiue m hninii; moR ot 
its territoi) piotected m national paiks, 
biological reserves and wddhfe lefriges 
than any other nation on earth. With all 
the right ingredients, a trip to Costa Rica 
is sure to suit your tastes. 

12. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center 
Join us for a week of excavation at 
Anasazi ruins; hiking and biking tours; 
one-day tours; and cultural workshops at 
our beautiful, remote Colorado campus. 

13. Cyprus Tourism 

C)prus Irresistible for 9,000 years! For a 

free color brochure call 212-683-5280. 

Washingl:on, 1 )Cs Wintertl'st - Americas 
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experience a spectacular season of 
entertainment, exhibits and events. Including 
a spectacular Millenniimi Weekend. CaU 
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15. Discovery Cove - Orlando, FL'^ 

Swim wirii dolphins, ravs and thousands 
of tropical fish. No barriers. No crowds. 
No Unes. New Discovery Cove, opening 
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Travel tor small groups to Egypt, Turkey, 
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17. Earth Ear 

The Earth Ear catalog is a coinprehcnsiw, 

annotated coUection of career highlights 

from over 25 enviromaiental sound 

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|8. Ecomertours Nord-Sud Inc. 
Discover the rich diversit)' ot the St. 
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and whale watching/ research, national 
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beyond road access. 

19. The Ecotourism Sodety| 
Discover how to take journeys that are 
enlightening to you and beneficial to the 
planet. Contact The Ecotourism Society 
- Source of Ecotravel Awareness World- 

|o. Galapagos Explorer II 

The Calapagos E.xplorer II, the newest 

most comfortable exploration vessel in the 


Enjoy M\ exhilarating adventure amid the 
same volcanic islands that inspired Charles 
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aboard our popular fleet of first class vessels. 

pTHolbrook Travel 

Natural History tours to Latin America 
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smaU groups escorted by an educational 
leader. Holbrook Travel 800-45 1 -7 11 1 . 

erica T 


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98 T HE NATURAL MOMENT natural history 2/00 

Sky of the 

rhe Starry Nights series, explains photographer Neil Folberg, "began as an 
attempt to show the sky as our eyes see it." While telescopic images can 
offer us lush color close-ups of galaxies, they put the viewer at a vantage 
point somewhere in space. Folberg combines constellations, lunar eclipses, and meteor 
showers with more earthly scenes — desert landscapes, temples, archaeological sites. In 
the image shown here, entitled simply Cactus, the stellar display is punctuated by 
the clustered stars of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, which brightly crowd in at the 
far right. But we are rooted in a landscape of shrub and rock in thejudaean hills, 
not far from Jerusalem . 

An ongoing series (a recent entry includes last fall's Leonid meteor shower), 
Starry Nights grew out of two very distinct book projects: color landscapes of 
deserts and images of historic synagogues around the world. Folberg finds a "direct 
continuity" in his scenes of desert, temple, and sky. 

Like all photography, Folberg's work is about light, sight, and technique. If you 
look up, particularly in the clarity of a desert night, your human eye drinks in 
starlight. But stars do not lend themselves to snapshots: point a camera skyward 
and push a shutter, and the film will record nothing. Prolong the exposure, and arcs 
of light will appear as the stars trace their way around a fixed point in the heavens. 
Folberg overcomes this problem by mounting his camera on a motorized base in 
order to track the stars as the Earth turns. And to reproduce what our eyes see 
naturally, he also uses "exotic techniques": infrared film (as for the foreground 
here) , precious-metal toners, and other "manipulations that push the materials to 
their limits. " In the best photographic tradition, the result is, of course, more than 
meets the eye. — Judy Rice 

Photograph by Neil Folberg 



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100 AT THE MUSEUM natural history 2/00 

A Forgotten Cosmic Designer 

Artist-scientist Howard Russell Butler painted moonscapes and portraits of "Earth's 
richest man," but his plans for a hall of astronomy were eclipsed. 

At the age of sixty-two, painter 
Howard Russell Butler was invited to 
join a U.S. Naval Observatory expedi- 
tion to Oregon to chronicle the solar 
eclipse of June 8, 1918. "As a portrait 
painter," he wrote in Natural History 
("Painting EcHpses and Lunar Land- 
scapes," July— August 1926), "I gener- 
ally asked for ten sittings of two hours 
each. But all the time they would 
aUow me on this occasion was WlVw 
seconds." His finished painting even- 
tually graced the Hayden Planetar- 
ium's rotunda. 

To record color values, Butler relied 
on a shorthand system he had developed 
for use in "recording transient effects." 
The artist may have perfected his color 
shorthand while laboring over thirteen 
portraits of Andrew Carnegie, who re- 
portedly could not sit strH for long. Im- 
pressed with Butler's many talents (the 
painter had also been a professor of 
physics, a patent lawyer, and an arts ad- 
ministrator) , the steel magnate hired 
him to design a mansion on Fifth Av- 
enue, create an artificial lake at Prince- 
ton University, and run the recently 
built Carnegie Hall. Butler's gift for cre- 
ating celestial images (and his friendship 
with Carnegie) attracted the attention of 
American Museum of Natural History 
president Henry Fairfield Osborn, who 
asked him to design a hall of astronomy. 
In May 1925, Osborn wrote to the 
Carnegie Foundation: "I am confident 
that [it] will be the most inspirational 
and seductive of all our great Sections 
and will not only be a unique monu- 
ment to Mr. Andrew Carnegie but wlU 
exert a profound influence on the life 
and thought of the entire United States, 
as our Department of Paleontology is 
now doing." Carnegie money however, 
was not forthcoming. 

Butler had placed the hall at the Mu- 
seum's center, as "the celestial hub, so 
to speak — fr^om which all the halls con- 
taining terrestrial exhibits will radiate" 
("An Ideal Astronomic Hall," Natural 
History, July— August, 1926). It was to 
be a dimly lit rotunda ringed with tiers 
ot meteorite exhibits and backlighted 

Ultimately, Butler's legacy was not 
the hall design itself but a collection of 
artwork that was on display in the old 
Hayden for many years. His meticulous 
paintings of solar eclipses, of Mars as if 
viewed from its moons, and of Earth as 
it would appear to someone standing 
on our Moon stirred the imaginations 

In a 1926 sketch, Howard Russell Butler depicted his proposed hall of astronomy. 

telescopic photographs. Topping the 
four-storied hall would be a dome 
onto which the newly developed Zeiss 
projector could beam the images of 
4,500 frxed stars and various heavenly 
bodies. By 1927, however, Butler's am- 
bitious plan for a hall of astronomy was 
shelved in favor of a freestanding build- 
ing that would eventually become the 
Hayden Planetarium. 

of several generations of schoolchildren. 
"Many times, while making [the 
[moonscape] painting, I longed to be at 
the spot and see how it really looked," 
Butler recalled. "But when [an as- 
tronomer] informed me that the tem- 
perature there would be about 70° 
below zero, I was content to abandon 
that desire." — -Jenny Lawrence and 
Richard Milner 


Rose Center Opening 

I'lic Fivilcikk I'liiiiL'.is ,iik1 S.mdr.i I'ncst 
Rose Center for Earth and Space opens 
February 19, 2000. The Center includes 
the new Hayden Planetarium, the Lewis B. 
and Dorothy Culhiian Hall of the Uni- 
verse, and the David S. and Rutli L. 
Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth (which 

; opened in June 1999). 

Our PLkc in Sfuicc, a free astronomy 
publication for eight- to twelve-year-olds, 
is available in the Museum's Cullman Hall 

[j of the Universe and at www.anmh 


In two 7:U0 KM. t.Uks, Johns Hopkins Uni- 
jj versity scientists discuss the impact of cli- 
mate change on public health. In the first, 
Jonathan Patz evaluates the human health 
risks ot global warming and El Nino; in the 
second, Gregory Gurri Glass examines the 
effects of habitat destruction in Peru and 
the United States. 


"What Causes Chmate and Climate 
Change?" led by Charles F. Keller, of the 
Los Alamos National Laboratory, is the 
fourth of five montlily 1:30 RM. discussions 
by geologists and climatologists of issues 
explored in the Gottesman Hall of Planet 


Cuban biologist and photographer Alfonso 
Silva Lee gives a family lecture at 2:00 p.m. 
about the animals of Puerto Rico. Silva 
Lee's talk focuses on Coqiil and His Friends, 
his new book for children. 


The great auk, extinct since 1844, is the 
subject of a 7:00 P.M. talk by artist and nat- 
uralist Errol Fuller, who has published a 
book on this flightless North Adantic bird. 


As part of the "Distinguished Authors in 
Astronomy" series. Ken Croswell, an as- 
tronomer from Berkeley, California, gives a 
talk at 7:30 P.M. entided "Magnificent Uni- 
verse," based on liis illustrated book por- 
traving the cosmos. 


At 7:00 PM., science writer Matt Ridley, 
author of Genome: Tlw Aurcbiograpliy of a 

Spc'civi in 2J (^liiiplers, t.ilks about the im- 
pact of the Htiniaii (lenomc Project, the 
massive international effort to map and se- 
quence the genes in human DNA. 


At 7:00 P.M., Sidney Horeiistem, the Mu- 
seum's coordinator of environmental pro- 
grams, gives an update on the geology of 
our Solar System's planets, moons, inete- 
oroids, and comets. 


In die first two talks m the 7:00 P.M. series 
"The Primal Feast: Food, Sex, Foraging, 
and Love," Susan Allport, author of .4 Nai- 
ural History of Parenting, focuses on foraging 
strategies of animals from howler monkeys 
to hedgehogs and on the variety of human 
diets and attitudes toward food. 


James Gleick, author of Faster: Tiie Accelera- 
tion of Just About Eferythin^, speaks at 7:00 
KM. about our culture's obsession with 
timesaving devices and strategies. 


At 1:00 and 3:00 P.M., sword-dance troupes 
and musicians perform some of the cen- 
turies-old English rituals associated with 
the cycle of the seasons. 


Peter Matthiessen, author of Tigers in the 
Snow, speaks at 7:00 RM. about the protec- 
tion of the Siberian tigers of Russia's 
Sikhote-Alin' coastal mountains. The U. S.- 
Russian team that undertook the project 
was led by biologist Maurice Hornocker. 


Drawing on her new book. Mother Natnre: 
A History of Mothers, Infwts, and Natnral Se- 
lection, anthropologist Sarah Blafler Hrdy 
gives a talk at 7:00 RM. on how gender 
roles, mate choice, sex, reproduction, and 
parenting motivate behavior. 

FEBRUARY 25, 26, AND 27 

As part of the series "Body Art in Asian 
Theater," Japanese master performer Yoshie 
Tachibana demonstrates a distinctive form 
of Kabuki theater developed during the 
Edo period (1603-1868). For scheduled 
times, call (212) 769-5315. 


FoUdorist Daniel N. Wojcik discusses youtii 
culture's approaches to self-decoration at 

Natural History Online 

Visit, Natnral 
History's Web site, for current articles 
and accompanying audio and video 
clips, as well as memorable pieces from 
eariier issues and additional material 
not found in the print version of the 
magazine. (Pictured above is this 
month's Mystery Object. Its identity 
will be revealed next month.) 

7:00 RM., in comiection with the Museum's 
special exhibition on body art. 


At 7:30 RM., as part of the "Frontiers in As- 
trophysics" series, Clark Chapman, of the 
Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, 
Colorado, gives a talk entitled "Europa: 
Jupiter's Enigmatic Moon." 


Science Bulletins, the Museum's regular up- 
dates on new developments, can be viewed 
on video panels and kiosks in the exhibi- 
tion halls. Or visit,, and astrobuUetin for the latest news in biodiver- 
sity, earth science, and astronomy online. 

To celebrate Black History Month, the 
Leonhardt People Center presents free 
weekend programs focusing on the ti%idi- 
rions of Airica and the African diaspora. 
For information, call (212) 769-5315. 

For a Listing of the Hayden Planetar- 
ium's courses, call (212) 759-5900. 

The American Museimi of Natural History- 
is located at Central Park West and 79th 
Street in New York Cin,-. For Hstings of 
events, exliibirions, and hours, call (212) 769- 
5100. For rickets, call (212) 769-5200. Visit 
die Museimi's Web site at 



A Layman's 

Born three years before the old Hayden Planetarium, I 
can remember when the Sunday supplements would 
carry articles speculating on what the inhabitants of 
the other planets looked like. We knew that Venus was hot, 
so the Venusians must be slim and flickering, Hke salaman- 
ders. We knew that Jupiter was a huge ball of gas, so its resi- 
dents would be squat and splayfooted, Hke gravity-flattened 
camels treading the sand. When the imagination moved out 
to Neptune and Pluto, it became ghostly, conjuring up giant 
eyes to see in the dark, so far from the Sun. Now, of course, 
the planets and their satellites have had the benefit of a Voy- 
ager flyby or some other robotic close-up, and the stunning 
photographic images yield no sign of life. Mars is a desert, 
Europa a ball of ice, lo a 
giant pizza. The Solar Sys- 
tem has become more col- 
orful and less companion- 
able; the stars beyond, too, 
for all the efibrts of cine- 
matic science fiction to do- 
mesticate them, are more 
forbidding for being more 
numerous, more violent, 
and more rapidly retreating 
than was thought sixty years 
ago. The universe refrises to 
be held to anything like 
human measure. 

When the Milky Way 
arched over the nighttime 
desert Hke a powdery river 
and hovered above the 
Mediterranean Hke a slowly 
rotating disk of bright pin- 
pricks, men sought inti- 
macy with this unreachable 
reality by tracing and nam- 
ing constellations; the plan- 
ets, as these wanderers 
emerged from the dazzHiig 
mass, were given the names 
of deities. Humanity read 

itself into the heavens. The Christian reHgion supplanted the 
theologies of pagan Europe, and the stars were inade to 
adorn the Virgin's crown, to stand watch over the divine in- 
fant's manger, and to adhere to invisible spheres — as many as 
twenty-seven — that smoothly turned in concentric homage 
to God's glory. 

The telescope roughened the picture: the Moon had 
mountains, Saturn had rings, and Jupiter's moons rotated 
around it, puncturing the planet's crystal sphere. The picture 
has widened and deepened ever since; fuzzy nebulae were re- 

By John Updike 

vealed to be other galaxies, as fuU of stars as our own, and the 
chemistry of the stars yielded to spectrum analysis. A univer- 
sal history was deduced, traceable to a monstrous singularity, 
a big bang in which the vastness of all matter was for an iota 
of time contained in a volume smaller than a single atom's. As 
late as the early 1960s, I remember, the big bang had a hotly 
defended rival hypothesis — the steady-state universe, where 
hydrogen atoms emerged one by one to feed the observable 
expansion — but the discovery in 1965 of the big bang's 
radio-wave fossil, the 2.7° Kelvin background radiation uni- 
formly spread in all directions of space, banished the rival to 
the same realm as the wobbly Ptolemaic spheres. 

The Earth's heavy elements, including the substance of 

our bodies, were forged in 
the cataclysms of dying stars: 
this is our connection with 
the starry empyrean, this 
and the mental ingenuity 
and persistence that chip 
away at cosmic riddles in 
which the physics of the in- 
conceivably small merges 
with that of the inconceiv- 
ably large. 

Perhaps the sky is no less 
comforting than it ever was. 
For bilHons of years into the 
future, barring an unlucky 
meteor, it will not intrude 
into our planetary privacy. 
Nor, it becomes increasingly 
clear, wiU we travel to it; the 
speed of light is circum- 
vented only in the impracti- 
cable overdrives, time warps, 
and quantum tunnels of 
Hght-fingered fiituristic fan- 
tasy, and even at the speed of 
Hght all but a few of the stars 
are many men's lifetimes 
away. What we see, looking 
up, is a glittering cage, 
fi-ozen by its impregnable distances. In the Earth-years that 
the Hayden Planetarium and I have witnessed, the universe 
has shed the cartoon face it wore in the Sunday supple- 
ments; it looms more and more as something utterly aHen, 
unconscious, but for us, ot its own triumphant beauty. And 
yet it has a savor of creation, its indifference scarcely distin- 
guishable from benevolence. 

John Updike's next novel is Gertrude and Claudius (Knopf, 





Aboard the Luxurious Hanseatic 
January 14-29,2001 

Optional Extensions to Easter Island 
OR THE Lake District and Patagonia 

Far to the south lies a land of dazzling snowfields, crystalline glaciers 
and dramatically carved ice mountains soaring above an untamed frozen 
wilderness. There are no human sounds in this land of primeval beauty 
only the wild cries of bird, seal, and whale echoing across a vast expanse 
of land and sea. 

Next winter, the American Museum of Natural Histor)^ invites you to 
experience the wonders and grandeur of a land where few have ever set 
foot as we discover the worlds last frontier — the great White Continent. 

In contrast to the desolate, intriguingly beautiful icescape of rugged 
mountain peaks, snowfields, and glaciers, the sun'ounding sea is rich in 
nutrients, supporting varied and abundant marine life — literally millions 
of penguin and other fascinating seabirds, including albatross, skua, 
petrel, gull, and tern; most of the species of great whales; and other 
marine mammals such as sea lion and a variety of seals, including 
elephant, leopard, crabeater, and fur. 

Our voyage takes place during the austral summer, when the weather is 
best, temperatures are moderate and days are long. Penguin chicks are 
hatching and it is common to see elephant seal along the beaches. Zodiac 
landing craft carry us from the ship to \artually anywhere along the coast. 
We sail aboard the five-star 170-passenger Hariscatk, a sturdy ice-class 
vessel that represents state-of-the-an in expedition cmising. 

We hope you will join the American Museum of Natural History on this 
splendid expedition and count yourself among the pri\ileged few who 
have experienced the wonders of the White Continent. To reser^'e your 
space, or for more information, please call American Museum of 
Natural History Discover)- Tours at 800-462-8687 or 212-769-5700. 
Pkasc mention ad codcANJIOOl. 

The American Museum of Natural History 
Discovery Tours 

Central Park West at 79th Street 
New York, M 10024-5192 




Explore the Wona^ith Discovery Tours 

Since 1 869, the American 
Museum of Natural History 
has sponsored thousands of 
scientific expeditions around 
the globe in an effort to 
unravel the world's greatest 
mysteries. It is this passion 
to discover and to under- 
stand that inspires 
Discovery Tours, the 
Museum's educational 
travel program. 

Participants in the 
Discovery Tours travel pro- 
gram have the unique 
opportunity to explore the 
world with Museum 
scientists as they continue 
to uncover new insights into 
the nature of life on earth. 
Since 1 953, over 17,000 
Museum travelers have 
participated in Discovery 
Tours to some of the 
world's greatest wildlife 
areas, archaeological sites 
and cultural centers. 


Indochina Unveiled: 

Vietnam, Cambodia, and Labs 
February 18 -March 4, 20D0 
March 3-19, 2000 

The Treasures of India: 

Exploring Rajasthan, Delhi, 
Agra, ami Mumbai 
February 19 -March 5, 2000 

Remote Kalahari: 

"Africa's Last Frontier 
April 16-30, 2000 

Northern Ireland and 
the Republic: 

Myths, Monuments, 
and Majestic Landscapes 
May 12-24, 2000 

Mongolia: Land of Nomads, 
Monks, and Genghis Khan 
June 4-20, 2000 i 

$6,990 ■ 

Northern Australia: 

In Quest of Rock Art and I 
Natural Treasures j 

, June 23-July 7, 2000 '' : 

' $6,990 

The Enduring Spirit Of 
Tibetan Buddhism: 

Bhutan, Ladakh, and Sikkim 
September 24- 
October 13, 2000 
$6,990 j i 

Elephant Walk: 

Zimbabwe, Zambia, arm 


September 12-28, 2000 



*Most of our land programs 
are limited to 15-25 


China and the Yangtze River 

September 6-24, 2000 

(Airfare from L.A. included) 

Exploring the Prehistoric 
Caves and Medieval 
Castles of Southern France 

September 14-26, 2000 

Patagonia: | 

Exploring the Chilean Pjords 
Aboard the Terra Australia 
February 24 -March 6, 2000 

$3,775 to $5,225 ''" ! 

The World of St. Paul: 

AJourney to Israel, Greece, 

and Turkey Aboard 

the Clelia II 

March 31-April 12, 2000 

$6,695 to $13,695 . \ 

Sicily: Crossroads of 
Mediterranean Civilizations 
Aboard the Halcyon 
April 8-18, 2000 
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Life on the Mississippi: 

Memphis to New Orleans 
Aboard the Delta Queen 
April 15-22, 2000 
$2,925-5,785 __ .._ 

The Isles of Britain arid 
Ireland Aboard the 

Caledonia Star 
June 10-23, 2000 
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North America's 

Toronto to Chicago 
Aboard Le Levant 
June30-July8, 2000 
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Voyage to the North Pole: 

Aboard the Icebreaker Yamal 
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Journey to the Top of the 
World: From the Northwest 
Passage to Greenland Aboard 
the Clipper Adventurer 
August 15-27, 2000 
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Magnificent Passage: 

A Journey of Discovery from 
Paris to Rome Aboard the 
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August 20- 
September 2, 2000 
From $6,995 
...(Airfare from NY.inclMded) 

From Early Man to 
Contemporary Civilization: 

Dordogne Valley, the Iberian 
Peninsula, and Bilbao 
Aboard the M/S Explorer 
September 21 - 
October 4, 2000 
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Under Sail in the Western 
Mediterranean: Journey From 
Sicily to Southern Spain Aboard 
the Sea Cloud 
October 14-27, 2000 
From $5,950 


Prices based on double occupancy. Single rates available on all tours. All prices, dates, and itineraries are subject to change. 




Egypt and the Nile Aboard 
the MIS Sovereign 
October 15-29, 2000 

Circumnavigating South 
Georgia and the Falkland 
Islands Aboard the 
MIS Explorer 
November 20- 
December 9, 2000 
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Splendors of Antiquity: Eg\/pt, 
Israel, Syria, Cyprus, and 
Lebanon Aboard tlie Clelia II 
November 30- 
December 13, 2000 
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Exploring Antarctica and the 
Falkland Islands: 

Aboard the Hnnseatic 
January 14-29, 2001 
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The Last Best Place: 

Montana by Private Rail 
June 21-29, 2000 
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-The Ancient Silk Route: 

China and Central Asia 
September 15- 
October 7, 2000 
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Discover New Zealand 
by Private DC-3 

February 18- March 5, 2000 

Global Wildlife Odyssey: 

UNESCO's World Heritage 

Wildlife Sites 

February 23- March 24, 2000 


Anciet Crossroads by 
Private Jet: London, Petra, 
jerasli, Ciaiuasens, Palmyra, 
Rangoon, Pagan, Angkor Wat, 
Borobudur, Mo)igolia, 
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October 31- 
November 21, 2000 

Heaven & Earth: Around 
the World Private Jet 
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Rose Center for Earth and 
Space: Tikal, Cnzco, Machu 
Picclni, Easter Island, Samoa, 
Ayers Rock, Borobudur, 
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Luxor, Petra, Norxvay's 
Northern Lights 
January 19- 
February 10, 2001 




Micronesia Land & Sea: 

Snorkelin';^ in Paradise 
March 14-30,2000 

$6,695 (Airfare from LA. included) 

Untying the Pamir Knot: 

Higli Adventure in i 

Central Asia ' 

April 9-24, 2000 

Nepal: Trekking Through 
tlw Annapunuj Footliills 
October 27- 
November 9, 2000 

$6,790 (Airfare from N.Y included) 

Journey Through Rajasthan: 

A Camel Trek and the 
Exotic Pushkar Fair 
November 2-17, 2000,^ 

Submarine Safari 2000: 

/// Search of tlie Sa\i-;7/ Sharks 
July 10-14and 
July 12-16, 2000 



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June 16-28, 2000 
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July 1-11, 2000 — "-f 

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A Summer Family 
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July 14-22, 2000 
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Voyage to the Lands of Gods 
and Heroes: A Family Voyage 
to the Ancient Mediterranean 
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Costa Rica: 

A Famihi Rainforest Adventure 
August 18-27,2000 
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Contact the Discovery 
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9 > 






Discovery Tours, the educational tra\el department of the American Museum of Natural Histor\', is a registered service mark of this institution. 



Received on 02-10-00 

^^UT IMPei?/^^ 







FONDE EN 1743 


A 'n.:M)i.:N(\ 

K'Kiirr iJi'.i'oK'K 




V. 109 
no. 2 

March 2000» 









V. . '^-••'^ 

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It turns out 


a lot more than just 

Environmental coverage 

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your property a hazardous waste site. You didn't dump the chemicals. But now you own the 
factory, so you own the problem. 

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the world becomes an ugly place. 

How can AIG help? By doing things others can't. By taking what you've always 
thought about insurance and turning that notion on its head. 

Who insures 



Take our Environmental coverage. Environmental laws vary country by country, state 
by state. Which means a detailed understanding of local regulations is essential. The AIG 
Companies have the largest global network of offices with underwriting authority for 
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Explore mysteries of the 
Woolly Mammoth now on 


MARCH 2000 





Researchers are constantly adding to 
the hst of substances that trigger 
asthma. They're also finding more and 
more genes that influence susceptibility-. 
But the real problem may be our 
pampered immune systems. 

COVER A handful 
of hatching black 
caiman are eager to 
devour any small 
animals that share 
their remote 
Amazonian lake. 

PAGE 70 



A network of couriers enables workers in a modern Indian metropolis to 
enjoy meals cooked at home according to traditional dietary rules. 


In the seasonally inundated lands 
bordering the Amazon in western 
Brazil, human residents and wildhfe go 
with the flow of the great river. The 
Mamiraua Reserve was established to 
preserve the region's natural richness 
for all its inhabitants, including the 
black caiman. Scientists are studying 
the reptile s nesting habits in efforts to 
ensure its continued surviwil. 













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■ ^^ 


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^^BL ^^^1^^ 





Really Looking 




First With a Flower 


Badlands and Oases 


Storms on the Sun 



CaUing a Bluff 


The Red Meat That's Good forYou 


AbscheuUch! (Atrocious!) 


Duets and Drawls 




Beasts and Brain Power 


Digital Earth 



Kinship Envy 

Coming Out 


Running Out of Ice 

I Hkl 





Mojor individual gifts to the Rose Center hove been provided by Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Gilder, Dorothy ond lewis B. Cullmon, and David S. ond Ruth L Goftesmon. Support 
for the Hoyden Planetarium has been provided by a generous grant from the Charles Hoyden Foundation. Public support of the Rose Center hos been provided by the State of New York, the City of New 
York, Office of the Moyor, the Speoker and the Council of the City of New York, and the Office of the Manhottan Borough President. Significant educational and progromming support has been provided by 
The Notional Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Major support from Eostman Kodak Company. ©2000 ftmeiimn Museum o( Nammi Hismry, Photo Courtesy of nas*. 



Dinosaur Stress 

The Deinonychus foot on 
the cover of the 12/99-1/00 
issue is of special interest to 
an orthopedist — and not 
only because of the lethal 
second toe. The swelling 
above the joint at the third 
metatarsal (circled in 
photograph) shows evidence 
of a classic healed fatigue (or 
stress) fracture. Such injuries 
are common in athletes, for 
example. This one may well 
indicate that the animal had 
performed a greater-than- 
usual amount of waUdng 
and running shortly before 
it died. Perhaps a pack of 
these hungry predators had 
been forced to pursue a 
healthy Tenontosaurus. 
Gilbert H. Lang, M.D. 
Sacramento, California 

Snow Birds 

In "Savings in a Snowbank" 
(12/99-1/00), Peter 
Marchand notes that 
ptarmigans and grouse often 
take refuge under a blanket 
of snow on cold nights, 
having "caught on to a trick 
no others use." 

But while walking in 
deep snow in Prince 
George's County Maryland, 
perhaps twenty years ago, I 
was startled by several 
meadowlarks, which 
popped up (one at a time) 
out of smooth snow near 
my feet. 

I couldn't say whether 
they had deliberately buried 
themselves or had simply 
allowed the snow to fall on 
them, but it seemed to me 
that they were using the 
snow for cover. 
John Krehbiel 
via e-mail 

For Love of Condors 

Richard MUner's piece on 
California condors 
("Cultureless Vultures," 
12/99-1/00) wasmcely 
done, but it was based on 
the opinions of a single 
source, Les Reid. While 
Reid claims to be an 
advocate of the condor, his 
uninformed comments are 
damaging to the condor 
recovery project. 

Reid claims that 
protecting habitat was the 
correct path to preserving 
the condors. But the birds' 
high mortaUty rate — caused 
by the ingestion of lead in 
buUet-tainted carrion and 
by coUisions with power 
poles, among other things — 
was an immediate crisis that 
habitat protection could not 
have addressed. 

Captive breeding is 
controversial, but without it 
there would no longer be 
any condors. Among the 
twenty-seven wild birds 
brought into captivity in the 
mid-1980s, very few were 
natural breeding pairs. This 
meant that the potential for 

Missing Words 

Because of a printer's error, two lines were omitted from 
the bottom of the column on page 42 in Stephen Jay 
Gould's essay "What does the dreaded 'E' word mean, 
anyway?"(2/00). The corrected paragraph follows: 

The major group of mesozoans, the Dicyemida, live as 
microscopic parasites in the renal organs of squid and octopuses. 
Tlieir adult anatomy could hardly he simpler: a single axial cell 
(which generates the reproductive cells) in the center, enveloped 
by a single layer of ciliated outer cells (some ten to forty in 
number) arranged in a spiral around the axial cell, except at the 
front end, where two circlets of cells (called the calotte) form a 
rough "mouth" that attaches to the tissues of the host. 

reproduction was almost 
nonexistent. Productivity 
was a top priority. A 
breeding pair in the wild 
raises one chick every two 
years, but the practice of 
"puppet rearing" allowed 
the same pair to produce 
two, and sometimes three, 
viable eggs a year. 

Yes, because we humans 
managed to drive these birds 
to the brink of extinction, 
no older birds remain to pass 
on the "culture" that 
dictates appropriate vulture 
behaviors. But once the first 
generation of zoo-raised 
chicks breeds, we wUl see an 
increase in parent-raised 
chicks and, we hope, an 
increased possibility that the 
condors will slowly regain 
their culture. 

Biologists, zoo officials, 
and condors are all learning 
by trial and error. We must 
do everything we can to 
help the birds survive in the 
wild, including behavior 
modification (flushing them 
from undesirable roosts, 
such as Les Reid's home) 
and publishing balanced 
articles on the issue. 

By the way, some of our 
staff members want to know 
where wildlife biologists are 
"making sixty grand a year." 
They want to apply. 
John Brooks 

California Condor Recovery 
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service 

Natural History '5 e-mail 
address is 

Visit our Web site at 

With so much to discover on and below the ground .. 

under the sea ... and in outer space . . . 

(to say nothing of milHons of years of history) . . . 

Shouldn't you be 


From animals (feathered, finned and furred) to plants 
and minerals: all, including mankind itself, make 
regular appearances in our gloriously full-color pages. 

Subscribe now to Natural Histon and receive 10 
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In each issue you'll probe behind the science headlines 
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10 CONTRIBUTORS natural history 3/oo 

Matt Ridley ("Asthma, Environment, and the Genome") is a British zoologist and science writer. 
The book on which this article is based is a whistle-stop tour through the human genome, 
chromosome by chromosome — "rather as Primo Levi told his autobiography element by element in 
Tlie Periodic Table," as Ridley puts it. Convinced that being able to read the genome is the greatest 
intellectual moment in history, Ridley says that it "will tell us more about our origins, our evolution, 
our nature, and our minds than all the efforts of science to date." In his two previous books on 
evolution, he focused on sex {Tlte P.ed Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, 1995) and on 
cooperation {The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Ewhition of Cooperation, 1998). 

Doranne Jacobson ("Doing Lunch"), who has done research in India over the past thirty years, has not engaged the 

services of the dabbawalas who deHver home-cooked meals in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), but she loves dining out in 

that metropoHs, where she and her family have enjoyed breaks from her rural fieldwork. An anthropologist, writer, 

photographer, and lecturer based in Springfield, Illinois, Jacobson (right, with two friends) is the author-photographer 

o£ India, Land of Dreams and Fantasy (W. H. Smith, 1992) and coauthor, with Susan 

S. Wadley, of Women in India: Two Perspectives (South Asia Books, 4th ed., 1999). Her 

most recent article for Natural History was "A Reverence for Cows" (6/99). 

Freelance photojournaUst Kadir van Lohuizen was introduced to the dabbawalas 

while covering a story in Mumbai on India's "new rich." Based in Amsterdam, he 

has worked widely in western, central, and eastern Asia as well as in Africa, Europe, 

and the Americas, often documenting the pHght of peoples caught in the midst of 

war and social upheaval. Van Lohuizen s numerous pubUcation credits include Der 

Speigel, Le Monde, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and Time. This February he 

was invited to serve as a jury member for World Press Photo's annual contest. 

John Thorbjarnarson ("Secrets of the Flooded Forest") notes that he maybe the only 
herpetologist of Icelandic descent; Iceland has no native reptiles or amphibians. 
Thorbjarnarson himself was born in Boston and "never outgrew the universal interest of 
small boys in reptiles." A conservation zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society in 
New York, he specializes in crocodihans. In addition to his caiman work in Brazil, he is 
involved in a study of the critically endangered Chinese alligator and works with Cuban 
colleagues on American crocodiles. Coauthor RoniS 
Da Silveira, right, is from Brazil's state of Sao Paulo 
and lives on a lake with his wife, Barbara, their baby 

daughter, and thousands of caiman "in whole harmony." A doctoral student at the 

Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia and a researcher with the Sociedade 

Civil Mamiraua/Projecto Mamiraua, he has studied, and worked to conserve, black 

and spectacled caiman for the past ten years. For twenty years, Luiz Claudlo Marigo 

has been photographing the wildhfe of his native Brazil. His work appears in two 

books, on Brazilian butterflies and bromeUads. 

When he was seventeen years old and Uving in the crowded city of Tokyo, 
Michio Hoshino ("The Natural Moment") became intrigued by an aerial 
photo of an Eskimo village in the midst of the Alaskan wilderness. Two years 
later, he traveled to Shishmaref, Alaska, where he found both his spiritual 
home and his vocation. After completing degrees at Keio University and the 
University of Alaska, Hoshino taught himself to be a wildlife photographer 
and soon ranked among the best. His 1987 photo book Grizzly resulted 
from his pursuit of a family of Alaskan grizzhes over a year's time; in 1989 he 
documented the migration of caribou herds and the life history of moose. 
Hoshino's Hfe ended tragically on August 6, 1996, on the Kamchatka 
peninsula in northeastern Russia, when a brown bear pulled him from his 
tent and killed him. 

With so much more to see, 

you'll want to come more often. Especially 

when you have unlimited free admission. 

With your subscription to Naltiml History, you're al- 
ready exposed to the American Museum of Natural 
History. Because each issue of the magazine vividly 
reflects the excitement and scope of the Museum. 

Yet visiting AMNH is a whole other experience. And one you'll 
want to repeat many times — particularly in the coming months 
with the newly opened Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth and 
premiere of the Rose Center for Earth and Space with its Cullman 
Hall of the Universe and state-of-the-art Hayden Planetarium. 

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On top of that, membership allows you to be genuinely in- 
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dues help finance our scientific research, expeditions, ed- 
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These are remarkable times at AMNH. with a mass of new 
exhibitions, displays and attractions. There's so much to see and 
do; you'll certainly want to visit throughout the year. Become a 
Member and enjoy unlimited free admission. 

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12 ALMANAC natural history 3/00 

First With a Flower 

Some spring bloomers get a head start beneath the snow and ice. 


By Peter J. Marchand 

My first glimpse of a snow 
buttercup flowering beneath 
a thin pane of ice was not 
unlike my first experience of watching 
a monarch butterfly emerge from its 
cocoon. It seemed a marvel of 
: Metamorphosis. From under the 
granular crust of a subalpine snowfield 

sprang forth life as tender and fresh as a 
butterfly's newly unfolded wings. I had 
often seen the hardy crocuses of town 
and country gardens poking their 
cheerful colors through the fresh white 
powder of a spring snowstorm, but 
these buttercups had reached their 
flowering stage entirely beneath the 

waning winter snowpack, finally 
absorbing sufficient sunlight to re- 
radiate heat and melt a hole through 
the ice grains around them. 

The vivid yellow buttercup's abihty 
to grow beneath snow is not unique. 
Seeds germinate, leaves unfurl, flower 
buds swell as numerous spring 

vvildHovvcrs — .imoiii; tlu'iu tho t.iiiiili.ii' 
trout lilios, lchioHowvis, spriiii; 
beauties, .lud p.isciueHowcrs — begin 
preparatitins tor euierij;eiK'e long 
before the snow cover recedes. 
Digging into the midwinter snow, I 
have often found plants that were 
browned and dead-lookimr in late 
autumn already greening at their leaf 
bases or sprouting new shoots. 

Cirowth ot any sort, whether it 
involves the elongation ot tiny root 
hairs or the unfolding of new leaves, 
requires energy. With the temperature 
luider the snowpack hovering at about 

The skunk cabbage, left, is one of the 
very few plants to generate heat. Above: 
A glacier lily blooms in Washington's 
Olympic National Park. 

32° F in late winter and with carbon 
dioxide levels often elevated (mostly 
the result of root respiration and 
decomposition of organic matter 
during winter), the environment 
beneath the snow is not inhospitable to 
plant growth. And there is some 
evidence to suggest that the 

wildHowers of early spring can support 
their growth p,ii"ll\ ihrough 
photosynthesis beneath the snow. The 
plants" phytochronies — pigment 
molecules that are sensitive to slight 
changes in d.iy length and that control 
a plant's growth timetable — may 
respond to dim light coming through 
the snow. But while the ability to 
photosynthesize under snow has been 
demonstrated in a few evergreen 
plants, including aquatic plants locked 
beneath ice, evidence of the process in 
other plants is ditFicult to come by. hi 
some early spring flowers, the 
machinery for capturing radiant 
energy, although mostly assembled by 
late winter (even the chlorophyll for 
photosynthesis may be produced in 
response to light penetrating the 
snow), probably isn't fully activated 
until immediately after the plant is 
released from the snowpack. 

In the absence of photosynthesis, 
energy for growth under the snow 
must come entirely from reserve 
carbohydrates. Many spring 
wildflowers have relatively large 
below-ground storage depots — in the 
form of tubers and rhizomes — that are 
stoked with fuel at the end of the 
previous growing season. As growth 
resumes under the snow, the weight of 
these storage organs decUnes steadily, 
in direct proportion to the increase in 
size of new shoots and flower buds. If 
the arrival of spring is rimely, 
photosynthesis wiO start before these 
reserves are depleted. 

The earliest — and arguably the most 
resourceful — of the spring flowers is 
the skunk cabbage, ubiquitous in the 
wet places of North America and 
Eurasia. Its flowering stalk emerges 
from the soil (and snow) before its 
leaves do — and often while air 
temperatures are stiU below freezing. 
So high is the cellular respirarion ot 
the skunk cabbage at this time of year 
that the plant (except tor one western 
North American species) generates 
heat — one ot the tew in the world to 

do so. When the air temperature is 
below freezing, the plant may be as 
much as 30° warmer than its 
surroundings, and the flower stalk is 
able to melt its way through frozen 
ground and ice. 

But aren't these early bloomers too 
precocious for insect pollinators? In 
fact, a number of insects are available 
to do the job, although some of the 
plants have the capacity to selt- 
pollinate as well. It's not uncommon, 
for example, to find flies and soUtars' 
bees foraging as the snow recedes. And 
when a flower is the only show in 
town, there's a strong likelihood of its 
attracting attention and being cross- 
pollmated, even with few insect 
species around. As tor the skunk 
cabbage, it leaves less to chance, having 
evolved an additional lure: a 
malodorous scent whose dispersal 
seems to be facilitated by the heat- 
producing flower. This dung or 
carrion mimicry attracts flesh flies, 
rove beetles, and even mosquitoes, all 
of which have been observed with 
poUen on them. (Some biologists 
believe that the heat produced by 
skunk cabbage flowers may also attract 
pollinators by providing a warm 
basking site during cool weather.) 

StQl, one other question begs for an 
answer: Why all this effort to be first 
with a flower? Reduced competition 
for pollinators may be one advantage 
of early flowering, but for many of 
these spring ephemerals, rime is the 
most pressing issue. Most occupy 
habitats where the growdng season is 
greatly compressed, either because of 
the short interval between the final 
spring and the first autumn frosts or 
because the closure of the overhead 
tree canopy in early spring smothers 
them in deep shade. In the race to 
reproduce, these plants can't wait for 
the snow to melt. 

Peter J. Marchand is the author of Life in 
the Cold (University Press of New 
England, 1996), noii' in its third edition. 

14 ALMANAC natural history 3/00 

and Oases 

Palm trees are an unexpected sight in the 
California portion of the Sonoran Desert. 


By Robert H. Mohlenbrock 

Four major deserts lie in the long 
trough between the Rocky 
Mountains and the Sierra 
Nevada and Coast Ranges of North 
America: the Great Basin, the Mojave, 
the Chihuahuan, and the Sonoran. 
Occupying elevations of up to about 
3,000 feet in much of southeastern 
CaUfornia and parts of southwestern 
Arizona, vi^ith extensions into Baja 
Cahfornia and other parts of Mexico, 
the Sonoran has several natural 
divisions. The westernmost section, in 
Cahfornia, is bounded on the east by 
the Colorado River and is usually 
referred to as the Colorado Desert. It 
is watered by gentle winter rains from 
the Pacific Ocean and more violent 
summer storms that blow in from the 
Gulf of Mexico. 

Low desert — the sandy flats found 
in valleys and bordering the many 
mountains — is the principal habitat in 
the Colorado Desert. Traversing this 
landscape are countless washes — 
waterways that are dry for most of the 
year but fdl up briefly following 
torrential summer rains. The low 
desert also has some scattered palm 
oases, aUcahne sinks, desert marshes, 
and permanent streams. The often 
steep and rugged lower slopes of the 
mountains are dominated by cacti, 
agaves, yuccas, and thorn-bearing 
shrubs. Farther upland, usually 
between 3,000 and 5,000 feet, is 
chaparral, where scrub oaks, 
manzanitas, and various other shrubs 
join cacti and yuccas. 

One of the best places to explore 
the Colorado Desert is Anza-Borrego 
Desert State Park, a 1,500-square-mile 
preserve that has well-paved roads and 
miles of primitive jeep trails and hiking 
trails. Among the paved roads is 
Highway S22, which passes through 
typical low desert as well as a severely 
eroded landscape known as the 
Borrego Badlands. Thimble Trail, ofl^ 
S22 in the badlands, is an excellent 
place to see the colorfiil annual 
wildflower show that appears (if winter 
rainfall has been ample) between mid- 
February and early April. Anywhere a 
paved road crosses one of the normally 
dry washes is a good place to study 
desert-wash vegetation. One such 
location is Smoke Tree Canyon, which 
is easily accessible from S22 and has a 
concentration of smoke tree 
(Psorothamnus spinosa) as well as 
indigobush (P schottii) and desert 
lavender. A fme chaparral community 
can be viewed along S22 as it passes 
through Gulp Valley, southwest of the 
desert community of Borrego Springs. 

The lower slopes of the mountains 
that rise from the desert floor are often 
diflicult to hike because of the rocky 
terrain. But a typical (and easily 
reachable) patch of this kind of desert 
habitat Hes near Ocotillo Flats and can 
be reached by taking DiGiorgio Road 
north out of Borrego Springs and 
continuing along a dirt road. This is a 
good place to encounter the purple 
milkweed vine Sarcostemma and the 
lavender-flowered spectacle pod, a 
member of the mustard family. 

The goal of many park visitors is to 




r M 



















Be^vertail cacti and Washingtbirfan 
claims in Borrego Palm Ca 

16|ALMANAC natural history 3/00 

see Washington fan palms, which grow 
naturally only in California's Colorado 
Desert and in two isolated spots in 
western Arizona. The sLxty-foot trees 
live in patches kept wet by 
underground water sources. Reaching 
these oases usually requires a hike 
through rocky ravines; the easiest to 
get to is Borrego Pahn Canyon, just 
one and a half niiles by hiking trail 
from the nearby campground. Another 
unusual plant is the elephant tree, 
named for its swollen gray trunk and 
limbs. The most accessible ones grow a 
short distance from the Elephant Tree 
parking area off SpHt Mountain Road. 

Among Anza-Borrego's wetlands is 
Coyote Creek, a perennial stream in the 
northwest corner of the park. Its 
rugged surroundings may be explored 
on foot or partway by jeep. Plants that 
grow along the stream banks include 
alder, Fremont cottonwood, sycamore, 
honey mesquite, and Goodding willow. 
Another wedand is the marshy 
Sentenac Cienega, along San Felipe 
Creek, near the juncture of Routes 78 
and S2. The huge reed Phragmites grows 

there, along with three-square, a sedge 
found in wedands across the United 
States. Woody plants along the margins 
include Goodding, narrow-leaved, and 
arroyo willows; Baccharis; desert willow 
(not a wlUow but a relative of the 
catalpa tree); and Fremont cottonwood. 

Scattered depressions in the desert 
fill with water after a rainfall, retaining 
an alkaline residue as the water 
evaporates. One of these alkaline sinks 
is Borrego Sink, about five miles 
southeast of Borrego Springs. Most of 
the plants found here can tolerate a 
high degree of salinity and, apart from 
the honey mesquite, do not grow 
elsewhere in the park. Among them 
are salt grass, pickleweed (also called 


samphire, or Salicornia), arrowweed (a 
purpUsh-flowered perennial related to 
the marsh fleabane of the southeastern 
United States), and several species of 
Atriplex, or saltbush. 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock, professor emeritus 
of plant biology at Southern Illinois 
University, Carbondak, explores the 
biological and geological highlights of U.S. 
national forests and other parklands. 

For visitor information, write: 
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park 
200 Palm Canyon Drive 
Borrego Springs, CA 92004 
(760) 767-4205 
www. anzaborrego. statepark. org 

5 Mitps 

Low desert is dominated by creosote 
bush, with its small yeUow flowers and 
fuzzy fruits, and burroweed, also called 
bur sage, a shrubby relative of ragweed 
with spiny, burrUke fruits. Other 
common plants are dune evening 
primrose, globemaUow, fishhook 
cactus, and a couple of kinds of prickly 
pear cacti. Desert annuals include 
dandelion, Bigelow's monkey flower, 
brown-eyed evening primrose, 
ghostflower, Arizona lupine, and 
slender bladderpod. 

Desert washes support small trees 
such as palo verde, ironwood, and 
honey mesquite, while the most 
common shrubs are desert wiUow, 
indigobush, desert lavender, desert 
aster, and cheesebush (burrobush), a 
plant with obscure greenish flowers 
and winged fruits. Conspicuous 
flowers are produced by chuparosa, 
whose long tubular red flowers are a 
favorite of hummingbirds; desert aster, 
a daisylike plant with bright blue 
flower heads; desert Uly, whose white 
petals have a silver-green stripe; and 
trixis, with yellow, daisylike flowers. 

Lower desert slopes have a dozen or 
so cacti, including beavertail, prickly 

pear, Engelmann's hedgehog, 
teddybear choUa, buckhorn choUa, and 
desert barrel. Large plants such as 
desert agave, Mojave yucca, and 
ocotillo are often present. Other 
shrubs include desert thorn, 
indigobush, creosote bush, burroweed, 
brittlebush, and wishbone bush. 

Chaparral has California scrub oak, 
chamise, greenback ceanothus, 
manzanita, and three types of sumac — 
sugar-bush, skunkbrush, and lemonade 
berry. A yucca with the engaging 
name of Our Lord's candle is often 
present, as well as two kinds of cacti, 
the beavertail and the cane choUa. 

Palm oases include Mountain Pahn 
Springs (where for some reason the 
pakns are stunted), Torote Canyon, 
and Borrego Palm Canyon. Along the 
trail leading to the latter grow 
brittlebush, lavender bush, desert 
Datura, ocotillo, indigobush, 
cheesebush, desert croton, sand 
verbena, chuparosa, and desert 
trumpet. More than 800 palms grow at 
this oasis, along with such moisture- 
loving plants as honey mesquite, desert 
willow, three-square sedge, desert rush, 
and arrowweed. 


By Richard Panek 

Our Sun IS nothing more than 
a nuclear reactor: all it does is 
continuously convert 
hydrogen into helium. The same is 
true of most other stars, as astronomers 
have known for more than half a 
century (see "Twinkle Twinkle," 
Natiml History, 2/00). Still, m the 
absence of overt reminders, it can be 
ditllcult to remember how 

e.xtraordinarily volatile the Sun 
actually is. But now we've got 
reminders (in abundance) for anyone 
who cares to look. 

Sunspots, the outward 
manifestations of the great gas ball's 
innermost workings, and an integral 
part of the solar weather system, have 
long been the object ot aestheric and 
scientific fascination for sky watchers. 

hi reient years, however, sunspots have 
.ilso come to be viewed as a potential 
tiireat to Earth- — and never more so 
tiian at the most active period in the 
sunspot cycle. 

That time is now, more or less. 
( )ver the eleven years of the cycle, the 
number of these blotches on the Sun 
each month can vary from zero to 
hundreds. Its impossible to know for 
certain whether the sunspots of a 
particular cycle have peaked until the 
numbers start declining, but a panel of 
e.xperts at a meeting of the American 
Astronomical Society in Chicago last 
spring anticipated that the present 
activity cycle would reach its 
ma.ximum in March 2000, give or take 
a month. 

Its actually not the sunspots 
themselves that concern solar 
researchers. Sunspots are simply 
variations on the gas bubbles that are 
always roiUng the surface of the Sun. If 
a magnetic storm on the Sun liits a 
patch of gas, the gas temperature drops 
and the "cool" area appears dark by 
contrast (although in isolation, an 
average sunspot would easily outshine 
the full Moon). Sometimes, however, 
the magnetic energy near a sunspot 
builds up, and it finds release in 
something called a solar flare — an 
explosion that heats the gases to 
millions of degrees, generating as 
much energy as 10 million volcanic 
eruptions and sending radiation that 
spans the entire electromagnetic 
spectrum hurthng earthward. 

So far, so good — usually. Earth s 
atmosphere and its magnetic field (or 
magnetosphere) manage to block 
most of the radiation trom solar 
flares. But if a magnetic storm on the 
Sun is especially fierce, the result can 
be a coronal mass ejection (CME) — 
what one NASA publication calls 
"the solar equivalent of a hurricane." 
In that case, the effect on Earth's 

The aurora borealis, or northern lights, 
illuminates the twilight sky. 

18 [almanac natural history 3/00 

magnetosphere can be protound. 
Which is not to say that a sunspot 
niaxiniuni need result in a 
catastrophe — or even an 
inconvenience — tor Earth. Even if a 
CME broadsides the planet, the 
impact might merely result in a more 
picturesque version of the aurora 
borealis and aurora australis. During a 
maximum in 1909, in fact, the 
auroral displays usually seen around 
the Poles, where Earth's magnetic 
field is weakest, were visible as far as 
the equator. 

But since 1909, the world has 
changed in ways that leave us 
particularly vulnerable to a direct hit. 
In March 1989, during the last 
maximum, an extensive magnetic 
storm on the Sun was responsible for a 
number of serious disruptions: power 
in the province of Quebec was 
knocked out, leaving 6 milhon people 
without electricity for six hours; more 
than 1,500 sateUites slowed down or 
dropped several miles in their orbits; 
and some folks in Minnesota reported 
that although they couldn't pick up 
their local radio stations, they could 
hear the CaUfornia Highway Patrol 
loud and clear. A decade later, our 
technology has become even more 
dependent on power grids and 
satellites. The Space Environment 
Center in Boulder, Colorado, recently 
inaugurated the Solar Cycle Project — 
in part to give electrical providers and 
communications companies a day's 
warning about CMEs heading our way 
during this next sunspot maximum. 

To monitor the solar situation 
yourself, you don't need a telescope or 
even binoculars, just an appropriate 
filter; many naked-eye solar observers 
prefer no. 14 arc welder's glass. A 
single sunspot might not be 
discernible, but during a maximum, 
the Sun often erupts with large 
sunspot groups. If you do want to use 
binoculars or a telescope, be sure to 
attach a fiill-aperture solar filter of 
either aluminized glass or aluminized 

Mylar. (Never ever look at the Sun 
without using an appropriate filter.) 
Check out for 
day-by-day sunspot totals as well as 
links to other sites where the Sun is 
visible even on a cloudy day. 

And speaking of Earth's weather, 
what's true down here appHes up there 


as well: if you don't Hke the Sun's 
weather now, just wait a while and it 
will change. 

Richard Panek is the author of Seeing and 
BeUeving: How the Telescope Opened 
Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens 
(Penguin, 1999). 

By Joe Rao 

Mercury arrives at inferior conjunction 
with the Sun on March 1 . It wiU stand 
2° above Venus on the morning of 
March 16, but at magnitude +1.1, it 
shines only 1/100 as bright. It can be 
found (with difficulty) late in the 
month in the predawn sky, and it more 
than doubles in brightness by month's 
end. Greatest elongation occurs on 
March 28, when this Httle planet is 28° 
west of the Sun. But at this time of 
year, the ecUptic (the path of the 
planets) is at a shallow angle relative to 
the east-southeast horizon, making this 
an uninspiring morning apparition. 

Venus rises in the dawn twihght all 
month and becomes increasingly 
difficult to see. At the start of the 
month, it comes up in the east- 
southeast barely an hour before 
sunrise. Yet it's worth trying to find 
Venus very early in the month, if for 
nothing else than to use it as a guide 
for spotting the planet Uranus. The 
very faint bluish "star" about half a 
degree below and to the left of Venus 
on the 3rd, and above and to its right 
on the 4th, is Uranus. By month's end, 
Venus will have moved to within 20° 
of the Sun, rising about forty minutes 
before it. 

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are all 

slowly converging in the western 
evening sky during March. At the 
beginning of the month, the three 
planets are strung along an imaginary 
line spanning about 28° (about three 
clenched fists held at arm's length). By 
the end of March, the Hne has shrunk 

to less than 10°. In early April, the 
planetary trio wiU form a spectacular 
triangle in the western sky, gathering 
closest together on April 14. 

Mars, the lowest and dimmest of the 
three evening planets, appears as a 
first-magnitude star with a topaz hue, 
moving from Pisces to Aries during 
March. It is low in the west after 
darkness falls and sets firom two to 
two and a half hours after the Sun. 

Jupiter, in Aries, is the middle and 
brightest of the three evening planets. 
It is visible low in the west after sunset 
and sets in the west-northwest three to 
three and a half hours after the Sun. 
The giant planet, lagging farther and 
farther behind Earth in the planetary 
race around the Sun, is now at 
magnitude -2.1. 

Saturn, in the eastern zone of Aries, 
appears as a yellowdsh zero-magnitude 
star low in the west as twihght fades. It 
sets four hours after the Sun. 

The Moon is at new phase on March 6 
at 12:17 A.M. First quarter is on March 
13 at 1:59 A.M., full Moon is on 
March 19 at 11:44 P.M., and last 
quarter is on March 27 at 7:21 p.m. 

The Vernal Equinox occurs on March 

20 at 2:35 a.m. Spring arrives in the 
Northern Hemisphere, and autumn in 
the Southern Hemisphere. 

Unless otherwise noted, all times are given 
in Eastern Standard Time. 


\'V HAS A 1^1 

TO ('( )>[!•: KKiirr hkf<)1-!K 


20 BIOMECHANICS natural history 3/00 

Calline a Bluff 

Thanks to their long windpipes, some birds sound bigger than they are. 

Story by Cart Zi'mmer ~ Illustration by Sally J. Bensusen 

On the island of New Guinea 
lives a glossy, bluish black bird 
called the trumpet manucode 
(Maiiucodia kemudrenii). It's about the 
size of a grackle and not particularly 
striking in appearance. But on the in- 
side, the male manucode is as extrava- 
gant as a peacock: its trachea, or wind- 
pipe, is not the six inches long you'd 
expect for a bird this size but an aston- 
ishing thirty-two inches, wrapped up 
in a giant coil to fit inside the creature's 
body. Unrolled, the manucode's tra- 
chea would be three times the length of 
the entire bird. 

The trumpet manucode belongs to 
a diverse group of about sixty species of 
birds, including trumpeter swans and 
whooping cranes, that have dramati- 
cally elongated windpipes. And Har- 
vard University evolutionary biologist 
W. Tecumseh Fitch has an intriguing 
theory to explain this strange anatomy: 
it provides a mechanism for birds to 
sound bigger than they are. 

You might think that to sound big- 
ger, a bird would give its calls a lower 
pitch, but Fitch says that for many ani- 
mals, pitch is not a rcHable clue of body 
size. Birds produce vocal sounds in ba- 
sically the same way we do, by making 
air vibrate through a tube. (There are 
some important differences, but more 
on them later.) To speak, you push air 
out of your lungs and up your trachea. 
At the top of the trachea, the air passes 
between the folds of the larynx (the 
vocal cords). The folds spread apart and 
then collapse, making the air vibrate, 
and these vibrations are what we hear 
as sound. A sound consists of waves, 
each of which has peaks and troughs of 

intensity. The distance between peaks is 
longer in low-frequency than in high- 
frequency waves. 

A big larynx vibrates more slowly 
than a small one, producing low- 
frequency waves and thus lower- 
pitched sounds. But people who are 
the same size may have larynxes of dif- 
fering sizes. We've all heard big burly 
men with surprisingly high voices. And 
when a teenage boy's voice suddenly 

The timbre of a 
voice, more than its 
pitch, is a reHable 
indicator of body size. 

drops, it isn't because his body has sud- 
denly grown bigger but because his lar- 
ynx has gone through a growth spurt of 
its own. 

Fitch is interested in a subtler and 
far more reliable indicator of body size: 
the timbre of a voice. When you speak, 
your larynx vibrates, producing sound 
waves in a broad spectrum of frequen- 
cies. Each wave travels along your vocal 
tract, from larynx to Hps. When a wave 
reaches your lips, some of its energy es- 
capes with your exhaled breath, while 
some gets reflected back down your 
throat. When this reflected wave hits 
your larynx, it bounces back up again, 
traveling alongside newly created 
sound waves produced as you continue 
to speak. If the reflected wave's peaks 
and troughs Hne up closely with those 
of a new wave coming from the larynx, 
they'll combine to create a stronger 

wave. How the waves line up depends 
on the distance between the peaks of 
the sound wave and the length of the 
vocal tract. But if the two waves are out 
of phase, their peaks and troughs will 
cancel each other out. The result is that 
certain frequencies sound much louder 
than others do as they come out of 
your mouth. 

This pattern of louder and softer 
frequencies helps to determine the 
timbre of a voice. Even a modest 
change in the length of your vocal 
tract can change your voice's timbre. 
You can test this yourself with a sim- 
ple experimervt. Read this sentence 
aloud as you smile; then say it again 
with your lips puckered. Puckering 
doesn't change pitch or volume, but 
it does temporarily lengthen your 
vocal tract and thus makes your voice 
sound different — richer, deeper. This 
sort of "color" is an important ingre- 
dient of timbre. 

Aside from puckering and smiling, 
however, there is not much one can do 
to change the timbre of one's voice. 
Vocal tract length in humans and other 
mammals is tightly hnked to skuU size, 
and skull size is closely correlated v^dth 
body size. As a result, timbre reveals a 

Opposite page, clockwise from bottom: A 
trumpet manucode, a greater black- 
backed gull, a Eurasian spoonbill, a 
Japanese crane, and a crested guinea 
fowl. Only the gull has the relatively 
short and straight windpipe of most 
birds. The others belong to a select 
group of species with elongated 
windpipes that are coiled or looped in 
various ways to fit inside the body. 




BIOMECHANICS natural history 3/00 

great deal about how big a person or 
animal is. Fitch has shown, for ex- 
ample, that you can predict the body 
mass of a monkey by listening to the 
timbre of its voice. 

But here we get to a crucial differ- 
ence between birds and mammals. 
Birds produce sounds at the base of the 

The big sound made 
by birds with 
elongated windpipes 
may help attract mates 
or scare away rivals. 

trachea, not at the top, the way mam- 
mals do. At the base, a bird's trachea 
splits into two branches, the bronchial 
tubes. Where the trachea and tubes 
meet is the syrinx, a complex system of 
muscles and membranes. Air is pushed 
out of the bird's lungs and through the 
syringeal muscles, which the bird can 
squeeze almost shut until they vibrate 
Hke a trumpeter's Hps. These vibrations 
produce sound waves that travel from 
the base of the bird's windpipe to its 

In general, bigger birds have bigger 
tracheas and a deeper timbre to their 
voices. And size matters. In many spe- 
cies, large males are more attractive to 
females. In species where males fight 
for the right to mate with a female, the 
bigger individual usually wins; to avoid 
getting hurt, males often size up an op- 
ponent, and the smaller one may con- 
cede without a fight. At close range, 
animals can gauge size by sight; at a 
greater distance or at night, sound can 
provide the necessary clues. A deeper 
timbre in the calls of one animal might 
be enough to deter a rival. 

The female greater painted snipe has 
ari extra-long windpipe. In this species, 
it is the female that defends the 
ttrntary, while her mate— and she may 
riave more than one — incubates the 
«gcs and rears the young. 

Therein, according to Fitch, may lie 
the explanation for the labyrinthine 
tracheas found in some birds. The 
length of a bird's trachea is not tightly 
tied to skull or body size. Individual 
birds born with a slightly elongated tra- 
chea will sound bigger than those less 
well endowed, and perhaps, if their in- 
flated image helps scare off rivals or at- 
tracts mates, they will have greater re- 
productive success. 

Fitch is just starting to test this idea, 
but he can already point to some inter- 
esting correlations. Birds with an elon- 
gated trachea tend to hve where visibil- 
ity is poor and where they may thus 
not be able to size one another up by 
sight alone (some, such as cranes, live in 
open grasslands but Hke to make their 
nests in overgrown areas). He has also 
found that in species where both sexes 
participate in territorial defense, both 

males and females generally have elon- 
gated tracheas; where only the male is 
territorial, generally only he has a long 
trachea. One species — the greater 
painted snipe — appears to be the ex- 
ception proving his rule: only the fe- 
males are territorial and only they have 
elongated tracheas. 

If Fitch's hypothesis proves correct, 
birds may not be alone in manipulating 
their voices, although in the case of hu- 
mans, the goal may often be to sound 
smaller, not bigger, and therefore un- 
threatening. Picture an obsequious 
worker trying to ingratiate himself to 
his boss. Chances are he's got a smile 
on his face — and a shortened vocal 
tract as a result. 

Science writer Carl Zimmer lives in New 
York. His first book, At the Water's Edge, 
is now available in paperback. 


Set your sights on some of the world's most 
naturally beautiful locations and you'll clearly see 
why so many bird species call these places home. 




Follow familiar and exotic species to picturesque destinations. 

costa nca 


^^^^^^ their sigtits on Costa Rica. Many 

^^B ) birders have made their first 
/^^^^, Neotropical trip to sample the 
'^^^^^ varied habitats in this breathtaking 
natural aviary. Home to an astonishing number of 
diverse ecosystems, Costa Rica is one of the 
biologically wealthiest nations in the world. From 
the lush, forested slopes of its volcanoes to the 
coral reefs off both coasts, Costa Rica offers a 
sweeping panorama teeming with colorful birds. 
During the past few decades, more and more 
Costa Ricans have come to realize the value of 
their natural heritage and biodiversity. Their 
exemplary National Conservation System is 
ensuring the survival of endangered species 
while The Costa Rica National Biodiversity Insti- 
tute catalogues and studies the country's nearly 
overwhelming varieties of flora and fauna. 

About 9,000 different kinds of flowering plants 
grow in Costa Rica, including more than 1,300 
species of orchids. The country is also home to 
209 species of mammals, 383 kinds of reptiles and 
amphibians, about 2,000 species of butterilies 
and at least 4,500 different types of moths. 
Although Costa Rica covers only 3.4 percent of the 
suri3ce of the eart;h, about 5 percent of the 
planet's plant and animal species are found here. 
Nearly 850 species of birds have been identified 
within the country's borders, more than are found 
in all of the United States, Canada and the 
northern half of Mexico combined. 

Costa Rica's forests offer a breathtaking visual 
backdrop for birders. Giant tropical trees create 
a canopy over a deep tangle of epiphytic 
vegetation as varied and naturally harmonic as 
the birds that live in their midst. Biologists have 
classified the diversity of forests in this region 

A colorful keel-billed toucan graces the Costa Rican forest. 

into a dozen different life zones. However, 
most of those forests fall into three more general 
groups: rain, cloud and dry forests. Rain forests, 
with their massive trees, very high canopies 
and little growth on the dimly lit forest floor, 
can be found in the Atlantic lowlands and the 

Northwest Costa Rica contains some of the last 
remnants of the tropical dry forest, a less exuberant 
life zone that shares much of the diversity of the rain 
forests. Cloud forests, which cover the upper slopes of 
most mountains and volcanoes, are the most luxuriant 
of the tropical forests, with mosses and other small 
plants covering the trunks and branches of trees. 
All the forests are beautiful, and in many ways simi- 
lar, but each offers glimpses of plants and 
animals that won't be found in the others. 

Visitors to Costa Rica without wings of their 
own most often fly into the capital city of San 
Jose. Most avid birders will want to stay on the 
edge of town and rent a car for excursions to the 
surrounding countryside. Trips farther afield may 
be made by car or air via domestic flights. Travel 
packages providing transportation make touring 
around easiest, but intrepid self-tourists armed 
with reliable, up-to-date maps can easily drive 
themselves around most of the country. 

r^fc jforest running from Carara southeast to 
^^the Panamanian boarder, the Pacific low- 
lands offer some of the best birding in Costa 
Rica. A number of species unique to this region 
make this zone essential for the visiting birder. 
Idyllic beaches and a range of accommodations 
add to its allure. Near the beach town of Jaco, 
about two hours from San Jose hes the Carara 
Biological Reserve, home to a large population of 
scarlet macaws and acres of unspoiled Pacific low- 

This special editorial/advertising supplement was created by the Natural History Special Sections Department and did not involve the 
magazine's editorial staff. WRITER: Kathryn Brennan DESIGN: Mindy Phelps Stanton PHOTOGRAPHY: Cover and birders by Douglas E. Walker/Tourism 
Saskatchewan; toucan by Kevin Schafer; puffin courtesy of the Scottish Tourist Board; France scenic courtesy of the French Government Tourist Office/ 
Daniel Thierry; owl courtesy of Tourism Saskatchewan; Alabama bird courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

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Land forest. Many tourists make this area a 
daytrip from San Jose, but birders will want to 
either get a very early start or stay over in Jaco 
or in Tarcoles/Playa Azul. The scarlet macaws 
can be seen early or late in the day as they fly 
between the reserve and roosting areas to the 
northwest. Well over 100 notable species can be 
easily spotted in the Carara Reserve, including 
the great tinamou, red-lored parrot, crimson- 
fronted parakeet and scarlet-rumped cacique. 
Other good spots for birding in the Pacific low- 
lands include Rio Tarcoles Estuary, the Tivives 

Varied life zones offer mo 
birding adventures in one 

Mangroves, Manuel Antonio National Park, 
Corcovado National Park and the Golfito 
National Wildlife Refuge. 

The northwestern province of Guanacaste 
offers easy access to the dry forest typical of 
western Mexico and the Pacific slope of Central 
America. Most of the area is deforested and 
carpeted with African savanna grasses, but 
various parks preserve patches of remnant or 
second-growth forest. The tropical dry forest 
has the most pronounced dry season of the 
various Costa Rican life zones, and many trees 
drop their leaves during the driest period, 
from December until March. Throughout the 
year, it's generally easy to spot birds in this 
open, sparsely vegetated country. Most 
species can be found in a relatively short 
time. Among this region's best conservation 
areas are the Guanacaste Conservation Area 
and the Santa Rosa, Palo Verde, and Barra 
Honda National Parks. The Hacienda La Pacifica 
resort complex, adjacent to these preserves, is 
popular with birders for the natural habitat 
along the river right on its grounds, where 
boat-billed herons come to roost. The Santa 
Rosa National Park offers a nice expanse of 
tropical dry forest, with the best birding by its 
beaches on the Gulf of Papagayo. Among the 
nearly 200 species found here are thicket 
tinamou, brown pelican, osprey, king vulture, 
and laughing gull. The marshes at the mouth 

of the Rio Tempisque at Palo Verde National 
Park are the last stronghold of the jabiru in 
Central America. Barra Honda National Park is 
known for its well-preserved limestone caves 
as well as consistently good birding along its 
trails. Relatively sparse vegetation make 
species like thicket tinamou, lesser ground 
cuckoo, and long-tailed manakin easy to 
observe and photograph. 

The volcanic ranges that form the spine of 
Costa Rica — the country's most striking 
geographical feature —are the source of great 
biodiversity. Many of the best birding 
sites are within easy reach of San 
ny Jose. Most of the best sites are on 
trin ^^^ middle-elevation Caribbean 
i"^^" slope, which has a distinctive 
avifauna with substantial numbers 
of otherwise difficult-to-find species. Braulio 
Carrillo National Park offers outstanding 
scenery and a good transect of Caribbean 
slope forest populated by local birds such as 
yellow-eared toucanet, lattice-tailed trogon, 
purplish-backed quail-dove, and ashy- 
throated bush-tanager. Other mountain sites 
well worth visiting include Tapanti National 
park, Volcan Irazu National Park, and Guayabo 
National Monument, the most significant pre- 
Columbian archeological site in the country. 
The Monteverde Biological Reserve is one of 
the most popular natural history destinations 
in Costa Rica, renowned as a magnificent 
example of cloud forest with several discernible 
bird habitats. 

offers a fine view of its avifauna along 
easily accessible foothills and beaches. 
Owned by OTS, a consortium of universities 
dedicated to tropical rainforest research, the 
Finca La Selva Reserve has an excellent trail 
system and a huge birdlist of well over 200 
species. On the Caribbean coast south of Limon, 
the tourist areas of Cahuita and Pueriio Viejo 
are good starting points for birders, and 
Tortuguero National Park provides a rare look at 
nesting sea turtles, sungrebe, green and rufous 
kingfisher, and rufescent tiger-heron. S 

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I A L A D V 

Your time 

to come. 

Come to a place where you are 

as likely to find dynamic new cityscapes 

as ancient castles alive with history. 

Come celebrate with Scotland in 2000, 

and satisfy your taste 

for the old and the new. 

Call 1-800-969-SCOT 

for your FREE Scottish Tourist Board 

vacation planner, or visit 





A puffin amid wildflowers in 
Scotland's pristine Shetland Islands. 

Lines, spectacular highlands, 
ancient woodlands and verdant 
glens, Scotland is an ideal 
destination for birders with an 
eye for drama. The Scots have always taken 
great pride in the natural beauty of their 
countryside, and they've recently made their 
inspiring landscapes even more inviting with 
new facilities and opportunities for naturalists. 
In areas both settled and remote, visitors can 
join various ranger-led walks. For the more 
active, orienteering events and well-marked 
cycle trails make exploration especially rewarding. 

Scotland is home to a great number and 
variety of bird species, including the most 
golden eagles and peregrine falcons in Europe 
and some of the greatest concentrations of 
seabirds in the world. 
Many species — including 
gannets, puffins, guille- 
mots, and kittiwakes — 
nest on cliffs over 900 
feet high. Many thousands 
of wintering wildfowl 
feed and roost among 
the country's estuaries 
and salt marshes. The 
great sweeps of white 
shell and sea-meadows 
of the west coast and 
pristine islands, such as 
Shetland and Skye, are 
rich in ground-nesting 
birds and colorful 
displays of wildflowers in 
early summer. The Royal 
Society for the 
Protection of Birds 
(RSPB) reserve on Nort;h 
Uist is a fine example 
of Scotland's pristine 
natural habitats. 
Only one hour from 

Edinburgh, the Bass Rock is dramatically 
situated near the mouth of the Forth River. 
Boat trips are available from nearby North 
Berwick. During the breeding season, more 
than 70,000 Nori:h Atlantic gannets (over 25 
percent of the world's population) flock to 
Bass Rock, creating an enchanting spectacle. 
This year heralds the opening of The Scottish 
Seabird Centre at North Berwick Harbour. Using 
state-of-the-art remote cameras from various 
strategically located observation areas, visitors 
can now see a range of species up close, in 
their natural habitat, without disturbing them. 

Also notable this year are The Millennium 
Forest for Scotland projects, a series of 77 
initiatives throughout the country designed to 
extend and enhance native natural habitats. 
Visitors to Perthshire, in the heart of Scotland, 
are invited to celebrate the 
survival of the country's 
ancient woodlands with the 
aid of new, way-marked 
trails enhanced by multi- 
media technology. This 
project — Scotland's Ancient 
Woodlands: A Trail from the 
Past to the Future — also 
involves walks at Crinan in 
Argyll and Abriachan on 
the shores of Loch Ness, m 

The Scottish 
Seabird Centre 
bird's-eye view. 


f ranee 


and gourmands, bird watchers will 
find more to love in France than 
can possibly be consumed. Itiner- 
aries can be as varied as the 
avifauna, among the most alluring in the world. 

Northern France offers a range of birding 
options for beginner and expert alike. A typical 
farming village in this region attracts tree 
sparrows, black redstariis, gray partridge, sky- 
larks, and hen harriers. Itineraries in the northern 
regions of the country include internationally 
important sites like Somme Bay, the Rommelaere 

with rich alluvium soil, has been cultivated 
since the Middle Ages. The open landscape is 
harmoniously composed of grain fields, rice 
paddies, orchards, rape fields and vineyards. 

Salt plains cover the southeastern corner, where 
the Grand Rhone flows into the sea by Sahn-de- 
Giraud. At the center of the Camargue, surrounding 
the Etang de Vaccares, is a huge zoological and 
botanical reserve teeming with wildlife. 

A must for birding, the Pare Ornithologique 
de Pont de Grau comprises a variety of land- 
scapes and species. Within approximately 
twenty acres of marshland set in the greater 

More than a mecca for culture vultures, France is 
an ornithological dreonn of unspoiled habitats. 

Marshes, Cap Gris-Nez and Blanc Nez as well 
as trips to see the migrating cranes and 
white-tailed eagles at Lac du Der Chantecoq. 

Fariiher south, between the cities of Aries and 
Marseilles, lies the Camargue region. Arguably 
the ornithological capital of France, the Camargue 
is like a country in itself. A series of long, level 
roads criss-cross its marshes and farmlands, 
making the colorful avifauna easily visible. With 
a bird book, binoculars and camera in hand, any 
visitor to the area will catch an eyeful of natural 
beauty on the wing. Eagles, hawks, and harriers 
soar above black bulls and white horses grazing 
in the fields, horseback riders file into low brush 
and cyclists peddle against the winds, along the 
roads, or on lanes closed to motor vehicles. 

The upper region of the Camargue, blessed 

The French countryside lures birders with wide-open vistas of breathtaking color. 

reserve, most of the birds of Camargue, both 
resident and migratory, can be seen close at 
hand in the wild and in large cages. The central 
area of the park is home to various birds of 
prey, including multiple species of owls, eagles, 
hawks, harriers, buzzards, and vultures. 
Wetlands are a lure for geese, swans, ducks, 
egrets, storks, herons and the icon of the 
Camargue, the pink flamingo. 

I ^Pj lies the Tour du Valat, a private, 
m^^ non-profit research and study 
center dedicated to the conservation of 
Mediterranean wetlands. The central part of 
the domain is the Voluntary Natural Reserve, 
the largest in France, 
staffed by 30 full-time 
researchers. Its various 
programs are open to both 
French and foreign students. 

Guided tours through the 
Camargue include horseback 
and jeep safaris. Renting 
bicycles is a good idea, 
partly because many areas 
are off-limits to motorized 
traffic. Flat, open terrain 
makes cycling here 
pariiicularly inviting. S 



Imagine yourself stroMInq through the 
magnificent halls and gardens of a chateau 
In the Loire Valley. Now you know how it 
feels to be royalty! This is just one of the 
2000 ways to enjoy the pleasures of France. 

To help plan your trip, order a free 
France Discovery Kit, which includes: 

• France Discovery Guide - a 112 page 
planner with itineraries, tips on travel, 
events and the pleasures each region 
has to offer. 

• Air France Holidays catalog of travel 
packages featuring romantic getaways 
to Paris, cooking classes in Provence, 
wine tours of Beaujolais, villa rentals 
and more. 

For a free France Discovery Kit call or visit: 












A burrowing owl pauses in the grasslands of Saskatchewan. 



America, Saskatchewan is home to 
the continent's oldest bird sanctuary, 
Last Mountain Lake, established in 
1887. Every year, as many as 40,000 
sandhill cranes and hundreds of thousands of 
other waterfowl congregate here. The sanctuary has 
two nature trails, and its Bird Observatory is an 
active station for bird banding as well as for mon- 
itoring bird species and numbers. 
As home, migratory stop and breeding ground. 

Saskatchewan hosts over 25 percent of the conti- 
nent's ducks and geese. In the summer season, 
swans and sandhill cranes flock to the province by 
the millions. Saskatchewan also is one of the best 
places on earth to view rare whooping cranes, 
magnificent white birds bordering on extinction. 
The Canadian Wildlife Service hosts a Whooping 
Crane Hotline (306-975-5595) for reports on the 
latest sightings. 

Beginning in May, waves of migrating birds stop 
down in Saskatchewan to rest and feed before 

continuing on to breeding grounds farther 
north. Visitors to Grasslands National Park can 
witness the mating dance of the sage grouse 
or get a look at the sharp-tailed grouse, 
Saskatchewan's bird emblem. Long-billed 
curlews, burrowing owls, chestnut-collared 
and McCowan's longspurs summer in the park. 
Other not-to-be-missed birding destinations 
include Buffalo Pound Lake, Valeport Marsh, 
Chaplin Lake, the Quill Lake region, Redberry 
Lake, and Galloway and Miry Bays. S 

Discover the Exciting 
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Birding expeditions to 

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Enriching Lives Through Travel Since 1 974 





A birder's paradise 

outstanding birding sites and 
inviting amenities and accommo- 
dations make Alabama's Guif Coast 
an ideal destination for birders. 
The Alabama Gulf Coast is located in the 
Mississippi Flyway Zone, a major route for 
migratory birds. There are two major bird migra- 
tions annually. The first, in the spring, usually 
peaks between late March and early May. A fall 
migration occurs from mid-September through 

The Alabama Coastal Birding Trail, arranged as 
a series of loops, offers birders an ideal guide 
to the best sites in the state. Several public 
areas along the trail provide excellent 
perspectives on a colorful variety of species, 
migration zones, and natural habitats. Alabama 
Point, Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, 
Gulf State Park, Fort Morgan, Battleship 
Point, and Dauphin Island are just a few of 
the major destinations for avid birders visiting 
this inviting state. Its many inland bays and 
waterways also support indigenous wading 
and shorebirds. 

The Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Loop of the 
Alabama Coastal Birding Trail is especially 

Where to s^ o when nature c a 

Head to Alabama's gulf coast... For vacation 

where you'll not only find sugar-white sand and information, call us 

emerald water, but hundreds of species of indigenous birds todaj toll-free at 

and neo-tropical migrants — up close and personal — I -877"722- 0044' 

among some of the world's most glorious preserves, 

forests, and saltwater marshes. 

Call for your A/a6ama Coastal Birding Trail Guide today. 




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/J A I A e * ¥ * 



CG\e\?rate the 
migration of 
hundreds of 
warb\er5, ebore- 
birds, waterfowl, 
nesting birds and raptore 
on Maryland's Eastern Shore. 
Call SOO-552-0355 for 
details and reservations 
or visit our web site: 
birding weekend. 

April 2&-30, 2000 

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popular, combining excellent opportunities 
for birding with an array of resort accommo- 
dations and activities. Among the most 
notable species along the loop are the snowy 
plover, a rare, threatened species that most 
often nests near the dunes along the 
shoreline, elegant great egrets; and sandhill 
cranes, canvasback ducks and herons; as well 
as a variety of pelicans and other striking 
seabirds. All along the loop, sites are marked 
with great detail, alerting visitors to which 
birds to look for, and when to find them. 
West of Gulf Shores, at Fort Morgan, the 
Hummer Bird Study Group conducts a bird- 
banding project in both the spring and fall. 
Volunteers set up nets, retrieve the birds and 
take them to banding stations. The birds' 
weight, length, health, and species are 
recorded, then they are banded and released 
for their migratory trips. The public is welcome 
to participate in both seasonal events. 

Established by a special legislative act over 
two decades ago to protect and preserve 
rapidly vanishing coastal barrier habitats, the 
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a 

A handy 51 -page 
booklet offers a 
defailed guide to 
the Alabama 
Coastal Birding Trail. 

triumph of man and nature. The maritime 
forests, coastal marsh, sandy beaches, and 
open waters of the refuge provide essential 
habitats for an amazing diversity of birds, 
including loons, grebes, petrels, boobies, 
gannets, pelicans, herons, egrets, storks, 
cranes, cuckoos, and an astonishing 
assoriiment of shorebirds and wateri^owl. 

Its strategic location along the flyway 
of millions of spring and fall migrants, 
combined with the habitats provided, 
make Bon Secour one of the country's 
most important sanctuaries and best 
birding destinations. S 




mark your calendar 


^pi) birding sites in the U.S., Worcester 
>^5*' County, Maryland has always been a 
favorite destination for naturalists of every 
kind. This year, on April 28-30, the county 
hosts the one event avid birders will not 
want to miss. The Delmarva Birding Weekend 
celebrates the migration of hundreds of 
warblers, shorebirds and waterfowl as 
well as many nesting birds and raptors. 

Participants in this event are invited to 
special lectures and dinners, casual social 
gatherings, canoe trips, boat excursions, 
day treks, and nighttime explorations 
of the natural habitat, including an "owl 
prowl" guided tour of nature trails in 
the Pemberton Historical Park. For more 
information on the weekend's events, or 
to register, contact the Worcester County 
Tourism office at 800-852-0335. S 

As interest in birds soars, be on the 
look-out for more special events 
and programs with a focus on birding. 

country will air Stokes Birds at Home, 
a thirteen-part series produced by 
Donald and Lillian Stokes, internationally- 
renowned birding experts and authors of many 
birding guides. Specific airing times will be 
determined by local stations. This program is 
being sponsored by Swift Instruments, Inc., 
one of the leading producers of high-quahty 
binoculars favored among birding enthusiasts. 
Established in 1926, Swift Instruments 

continues to strive for technical excellence and 
enduring quality in all that they do. Their 
sponsorship of this series is a reflection of 
their devotion to birding as well as the 
popularity of their advanced line of birding 
binoculars and spotting scopes within the 
birding community. Swift Instruments' 
dedication to optical excellence is clear to 
anyone who uses their products. Knowledgeable 
bird watchers everywhere clearly recognize 
their expertise in viewing nature at its best. J 

• Fpr mQreinfomiatibri-pn travel to, Costa Rica, call l-gd0-'343-6332 oj- 
visit the Costa Rica tourist Board websjie it vwyw.tourism-cost^ -' 
For more information on travel opportunities in Scotland andT | 

coniplitiientary copy of the Scottish Vacation jfUniifei^iCaU the British >J 
IguriStAuttiority at 1-800-462-2748, ext 6. ■'y '/!-'.'' '^ / 

)fficeat2l2T838-786ooVe-mailfrancet( / \ J 
e, fullrcolor Saskatchewan Vacation Guided call 877-2ESCfAPE. \ 
"'"' ' ■'' ■ ■ the Alabama Gulf Coast, call 800-982-8562. 
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Work Hard. 
" Fly Right. 


The Red Meat 
That's Good for You 

AustraUans ponder solutions to their kangaroo problem. 

By Terry Domico 

Grinding torvvard in low 
gear, the four-wheel-drive 
truck bucks and sways 
along the dirt track. It's 
nearly midnight, but there's still an- 
other hour to go until Ted Heineman's 
"lunchtinie." As we bounce along in 
the truck's cab, Heineman's assistant 
flicks the beam of the root-mounted 
spotlight back and forth across the dark 
landscape. For an instant, a small tree 
p;lows in the light, then a bush, then 
chree red kangaroos. The animals scat- 
ter as soon as the truck comes to a halt. 
"Roos are very skittish on windy 

The red 

kangaroo is one 
of five large 
members of the 
kangaroo family 
that are 
within defined 
limits, to be fair 
game for 

nights like this," says Heineman. "The 
best times for hunting them are just a 
day or two before you get rain." As 
one of Australia's many full-time pro- 
fessional roo shooters, he speaks from 

The flitting spodight momentarily 
catches three more kangaroos. "Two 
females and a joey." The truck and 
spotlight move on. Another group of 
six roos is illuminated briefly, then also 
passed over. Because his fee is based on 
carcass weight, Heineman shoots only 
big males and the largest females. 

Near a line of trees we ghmpse nu- 

merous green eyes. "Sheep!" com- 
ments the shooter. "We'd best move 
on. Sheep and roos don't like to mix." 
Soon we see two big male kangaroos. 
One continues to graze while the 
truck stops. Heineman readies the 
rifle, an expensive-looking .225 cahber 
center-fire mounted with an 8x scope. 
"Shhhh . . ." He lays the rifle barrel 
across the padded armrest mounted on 
the driver's door. A tense moment 
passes. Bai!^! A hit. Bang! Another hit. 
A third animal moves into his line ot 
sight, but he passes it up: "Too small — 
we'U let it grow up." 



We drive over to the prostrate 
forms and get out of the truck. In the 
headlights we can see the blood; both 
roos were shot in the head, killed in- 
stantly. Like many other kills, these 
were made at more than a hundred 
yards away. We load the carcasses onto 
the truck and roll onward. There are 
now eleven dead kangaroos on the 
truck. All of them have been shot in 
the head. 

This killing leaves me feeling 
queasy, but I'm determined to see for 

Despite farmers' 
and sheep 
ranchers' efforts 
to eradicate 
them, kangaroos 
(such as these 
eastern grays) 
continue to 
thrive on their 

from the tail became bindings for 
spears and stone implements, fur was 
twisted into twine, and teeth were 
fashioned into attractive necklaces. In 
the southern part of the continent, 
where winter temperatures faU below 
freezing, kangaroo skins made warm 
furry cloaks. On the dry plains, pre- 
pared skins were sewn and sealed to 
make water bags. The animals were a 
fixture in Aboriginal art. 

But in the late eighteenth century, 
with the arrival of European settlers 

Bit by bit, the image of the kanga- 
roo as a resource was replaced by its 
reputation as a nuisance. The animals 
not only damaged crops and fences but 
competed with domestic sheep and 
cattle for precious grass. "Coursing 
clubs" were formed to hunt them on 
horseback. To aid in the chase, settlers 
bred the kangaroo dog — a swift, grey- 
houndlike runner with powerful jaws. 
Meanwhile, however, as they cleared 
the land and created and improved 
watering places for livestock, the set- 

myself what Australia's "kangaroo 
problem" is all about. Most of the 
shooters I've accompanied in the past 
three months seem to care about their 
quarry, and all try to be humane by 
making every shot an instant kill. 

Australia is home to all of the large 
species in the kangaroo family as well 
as to most of their smaller relatives. For 
thousands of years, many of these ani- 
mals provided the Aborigines with 
meat and other products. Long sinews 

and their agriculture, the face of Aus- 
tralia began to change irrevocably. At 
first, the kangaroo was an important 
part of the newcomers' diet, too — 
probably because domestic stock was 
still too valuable to be killed. But as the 
colonial presence expanded, mutton 
began to replace kangaroo meat on the 
dinner tables of the wealthier farms. 
By the mid-1800s, eating kangaroo 
was associated with being a poor 

tiers enabled the roos to multiply ex- 
ponentially. An 1863 editorial in the 
newspaper Bordenmtch warned: 

It is becoming daily more apparent 
that some system of wholesale destruc- 
tion will have to be devised for check- 
ing the rapid increase of kangaroos. So 
much have these animals increased in 
late years that if measures are not 
speedily taken against them, they 
threaten to overrun the district. . . . 


Hi' .\/(i>///i/ ihcrcjorc prcMh a (luidilc 
aj^aitist hafi)>aroos. 

Coursing was not up to the task of 
eradicating large numbers of the ani- 
mals, however. The battue, a hunt in 
which bushes are beaten to drive out 
the game (a method used by the Abo- 
rigines), proved to be much more suc- 
cessful. Kangaroos were rounded up 
and driven into a dead end or a pit, 
where tliey could bo shot or clubbed 
to death. After kangaroos were legally 

tiiat we still have nearly .is ni.uiy k.ui- 
garoos in southwest Queensland as we 
have sheep." shooters are united to 
luint on properties that are heavily 
populated by kangaroos. The hunters 
then sell the sknis to tanneries and the 
meat for pet food and to specialty meat 
markets tor human consumption. 
(Kangaroo meat, which contains less 
than 2 percent fat and almost no cho- 
lesterol, has been called "the red meat 
that's good tor you to eat.'") It's praise- 

ilcclared noxious in 1880, under 
AC"T#II.44 VIC, rural communities 
pursued the animals' eradication with a 
vengeance. A decade later, in a battue 
that took place in Queensland, a dozen 
shooters killed a total of 20,000 kanga- 
roos in six weeks. Still, the roos con- 
tinued to multiply. 

Over the years, an industry has 
grown up around the killing of kanga- 
roos. "There needs to be a reasonable 
balance struck," says Bob Miles, a re- 
searcher with the Queensland Depart- 
ment of Primary Industries, which 
helps fiirmers solve production and 
management problems. "Kangaroos 
are a native animal, and they need pro- 
tecting, but the estmiates now indicate 

worthy that not all the carcasses are 
wasted, as they were during the era of 
the battue, but about half are still being 
left to rot after the skin has been re- 
moved. And while some Australians 
see the trade in kangaroos as a humane 
use of a natural resource, others are 
upset that wild animals are being com- 
mercially exploited. 

Currently, only five species of large 
kangaroo are considered tair game 
(most other species are protected and. 
with the possible exception of the 
swamp wallaby, are not considered 
worth pursuing). Shooters target pri- 
marily the red kangaroo, the eastern 
gray kangaroo, the western gray kan- 
garoo, and the common wallaroo, with 

a sm.iller number of whiptail wallabies 
taken as well. As a rule of thumb, 
roughly 1 5 percent of a population is 
considered a sate annual harvest. With 
consider.ibly more than 2() million of 
the targeted animals around, these spe- 
cies are not in danger ot extinction. 

Methods of kangaroo management 
vary to some extent from state to state, 
but each one sets commercial quotas to 
prevent overharvesting. The number is 
determined by the Federal Minister of 
the Environment and is based on rec- 
onuiiendations from 
Invited to hunt the govermnent and 
on properties from a wildlife-use 
overrun by advisory committee 

kangaroos, that represents vari- 

professional ous nongovernmen- 

shooters profit tal organizations. 
from the Numerous tactors are 

animals' skins taken into account: 
and, to a lesser population estimates 
extent, the based on aerial and 

meat, which ground surveys, the 

they sell both proportions of the 
for pet food and different species, the 
human sizes and sex rarios ot 

consumption. kangaroos that were 

recently shot, and 
local seasonal condi- 
tions. Zones in 
which kangaroos are 
proving to be a se- 
vere nuisance are allocated higher quo- 
tas than are other areas, but in every 
case the welfare of the overall roo pop- 
ulation IS kept in mind. 

Some critics contend that the kan- 
garoo culling quotas are too high. In 
1975 slightly more than a million kan- 
garoos were legally a\'ailable for com- 
mercial harvest. This number increased 
to 3 million in 1981 and to 5.2 million 
in 1992 betbre reaching 5.7 million in 
1999. The organization Greenpeace 
argues that continuing commercial 
killing at this level may ultimately 
threaten the kangaroo with extinction. 
"There may even be as many [kanga- 
roos] as there were 200 years ago," 
concedes Molly Olson, former direc- 




tor of Sydney's Greenpeace office, 
"but they're now living in a niuch 
more confined area." The concern is 
that an environmental coUapse within 
the reduced territory could have dev- 
astating effects on the animal's long- 
term survival. 

But Bill Bonthrone, manager of 
Ingaby Station farm in southeastern 
Queensland and past president of the 
United Graziers' Association of 
Queensland and the National Farmers' 
Federation, insists that the commercial 
harvesting should continue. "If it 
should end, it means we farmers will 
have to do the cuUing," he says. "And 
if I'm forced to do it, the day will 
come when I won't shoot them. With 
kangaroo numbers increasing Uke they 
are, I'll be forced to poison them. 
That's just how serious the situation is. 
You can't have a crop that's worth 
$50,000 wiped out by kangaroos and 
expect to survive." 

Gordon Grigg, a professor of zool- 

ogy at the University of Queensland in 
Brisbane, has been looking long and 
hard at the kangaroo problem. Piloting 
a Cessna, he takes part in the annual 
aerial survey that helps determine the 
current population figures for kanga- 
roos in the arid and semiarid zones of 
Australia. "After more than a decade of 
flying kangaroo surveys over the east- 
ern two-thirds of AustraHa," he wrote 
in 1987, "the strongest impression I 
am left with is the huge impact that the 
hard-hoofed, hard-feeding sheep have 
had on the landscape. It is difficult to 
find a scene where the imprint of 
hooves is not clearly visible. The vege- 
tation has been ground underfoot, ex- 
posing the fragile soil, changing its 
drainage properties and lessening its 
suitabiUty for plant growth." By con- 
trast, kangaroos have soft feet that do 
not harm tender vegetation. 

More than a decade later, little has 
changed. Grigg estimates that some 
770,000 square miles (about 55 

Sheep pcivciu) of the .ind 

converging on a zone has now been 
bore (well) in seriously degraded 
western New and is at risk ot be- 

South Wales coming permanent 

have left their desert. The obvious 
mark, way to address the 

eratiicating problem is bv reduc- 

vegetation and ing the number of 
damaging the sheep (as well as cat- 
fragile soil. tie). But how? With 
Lacking sharp their backs to the 
hooves, ecoiioniic wall, many 
kangaroos are graziers are trsnng to 
gentler on the survive by puttmg 
landscape. more livestock on 
the already depleted 
land. Its a vicious cycle, in which 
everyone will be losers sooner or later. 

"Kangaroos thrive in unnaturally 
high numbers on these same lands 
where they are regarded as pests," says 
Grigg. "in a nutshell, my idea is that 
we should undertake a marketing drive 
for kangaroo products, raismg the 

price to such an extent that graziers 
will find it worthwhile to reduce their 
traditional hard-footed stock in favor 
ot free-range kangaroos. In turn, the 
reduction of sheep numbers would 
help halt land degradation." 

If Griggs idea is ever implemented, 
kangaroo management practices would 
probably beconie similar to those ot 
conmiercial fisheries. People would 
not own kangaroos, the way they do 
sheep and other livestock. Instead, the 
animals would be managed and har- 
vested as a natural resource in areas and 
on properties where they range in sut- 
ficient numbers. 

The "Grigg proposal," as it is pub- 
Ucly referred to in Austraha, has gar- 
nered mixed and heated reviews. Some 
critics are concerned that the economy 
would be flooded by this new meat 
supply. Grigg counters that if all the 
kangaroos that were culled each year 
were sold as supermarket specialt)' 
meat, this would represent less than 3 

percent of the country's total meat 
sales. Others say that rural communi- 
ties are much too conservative to try 
such an unusual thing as kangaroo 
ranching. Yet the country's sheep in- 
dustry is often in economic crisis and 
may soon fail in many regions. Some 
folks abhor the idea of eating their na- 
tional symbol, but they seem to forget 
that millions of the animals are killed 
each year simply as pests. 

Kangaroos evolved on this landmass 
and are finely tuned to its seasonal 
changes. Perhaps it will prove easier all 
around to take advantage ot their pres- 
ence. As one Australian newspaper 
headline recently reported, "Eating 
Roos Will Save Them: Govt." 

Terry Domico, who lives on an island off 
tlie coast of IVasliitigton State, is a natural- 
ist, writer, and photographer. Among his 
books are Kangaroos: The Marvelous 
Mob {Facts on File, 1993) and Bears of 
the World (Facts on File, 1988). 


iMPLER Times 

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Fishing With Your Dad? 

You Can Come Home Again. ..And It's 

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Simpler Times Are Alive And 

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1 800 visit id • 



THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 3/00 

Ahscheulichi . ^ . ,x 


Haeckels distortions did not help Darwin. 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

Revolutions cannot be kind to promi- 
nent and unreconstructed survivors of 
a superseded age. But the insight and 
dignity of vanquished warriors, after 
enough time has elapsed to quell the 
immediate passions of revolt, often in- 
spire a reversal of fortune in the judg- 
ment of posterity. (Even the most un- 
abashed Northerner seems to prefer 
Robert E. Lee to George McClellan 
these days.) 

This essay details a poignant Utde 
drama in the lives of three great central 
European scientists caught in the intel- 
lectual storm of Darwin's Origin of Spe- 
cies, pubhshed in 1859. This tale, dor- 
mant for a century, has just achieved a 
vigorous second life, based largely on 
historical misapprehension and cre- 
ationist misuse. Ironically, once we dis- 
entangle the fallacies and supply a 
proper context for understanding, our 
admiration must flow to Darwin's two 
most prominent opponents from a dis- 
persed and defeated conceptual world: 
the Estonian (but ethnic German) em- 
bryologist and general naturalist Karl 
Ernst von Baer (1792-1876), who 
spent the last forty years of his life 
teaching in Russia; and the Swiss zool- 
ogist, geologist, and paleontologist 
Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), who de- 
camped to America in 1846 and 
founded Harvard's Museum of Com- 
parative Zoology, where I now reside 
as curator of the collection of fossil in- 
vertebrates that he began. By contrast, 
our justified criticism must fall upon 
the third man in the topsy-turvy 
drania, the would-be hero of a new 

world order: German naturalist Ernst 
Haeckel (1834-1919), the primary en- 
thusiast and popularizer of Darwin's 
great innovation. Haeckel's forceful, 
eminently comprehensible, if not al- 
ways accurate, books appeared in all 
major languages and surely exerted 
more influence than the works of any 
other scientist, including Darwin and 
Huxley (by Huxley's own frank admis- 
sion), in convincing people through- 
out the world about the validity of 

Cynic that I am, I nonetheless con- 
fess to hero worship for the raw intel- 
lectual breadth and power of three 
great men: Darwin, who constructed 
my world; Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier, 
because the clarity of his mind leaves 
me awestruck every time I read his 
work; and Karl Ernst von Baer, who 
Hved too long and became too isolated 
to win the proper plaudits of posterity. 
T. H. Huxley, who ranks fourth on my 
list, regarded von Baer as Europe's 
greatest pre-Darwinian naturalist. 

As the leading embryologist of the 
early nineteenth century, von Baer dis- 
covered the mammalian egg cell in 
1827 and, in 1828, published the 
greatest monograph in the history of 
the field: Uber Entwickelungsgeschichte 
der TItiere (On the Developmental His- 
tory of Animals). He then suffered a 
mental breakdown and never returned 
to the field of embryology. Instead he 
moved to Saint Petersburg in 1834 (a 
common pattern for Central European 
scientists, because Russia, lacking a 
systein of modern education, imported 
many of its leading professors in scien- 
tific subjects). There he enjoyed a long 

and splendid second career as an Arctic 
explorer, a founder of Russian anthro- 
pology, and a geomorphologist cred- 
ited with discovering an important law 
relating the erosion of riverbanks to 
the Earth's rotation. 

In Ernst Haeckel's drawing, the early 
embryos (top row) of a pig, dog, monkey, 
and human are nearly identical. 

Von Baer's theories of natural his- 
tory allowed for limited evolution 
among closely related forms but not 
for substantial transformation between 
major groups. Moreover, he held no 
sympathy for Darwin's mechanistic 
views of evolutionary causality. Dar- 
win's book shook the aged von Baer 
from decades of inactivity in his for- 
mer zoological realm, and this great 
man — whom Agassiz, in his last (and 
posthumously published) article of 

1874, would I, ill "(Ik- ai;i.\l Nosnir of 
the science of Embryology" — came 
roaring back with a niaji>r crititiuc en- 
titled L'hcr Dcini'ins Lclirc (On i3ar\vui's 

In another article written in 1866 
to criticize a brave new world that 
often forgot, and more frequently 
disparaged, the discoveries ot previ- 
ous generations, von Baer made a 
rueful comment that deserves en- 
shrnienient as one of the great apho- 
risms in the history of science. Invok- 
ing Agassiz, his younger friend and 
boon companion in rejecting the 
new tiieory ot meciiamstic evolution, 
von Baer wrote: 

A{;iissi: says that when ti iiar doctrine 
is presented, it nuist i;o through three 
stages. First, people say that it isn V 
tnic, then that it is against religion, 
and in the third stage, that it has long 
been known. (Author's translation) 

Ernst Haeckel, with his characteris- 
tic mixture of gusto and bluster, fan- 
cied himself a Darwinian general em- 
battled in Agassiz's first two stages, 
unturUng the new evolutionary banner 
not only for a biological truth but for 
righteousness of all stripes. In 1874 he 

On one side spiritual freedom and 
truth, reason and culture, evolution 
and progress stand under the bright 
banner of science; on the other side, 
under the black flag of hierarchy, stand 
spiritual slavery and falsehood, 
irrationality and barbarism, 
superstition and retrogression. . . . 
Ei'ohttion is the lieary artillery in the 
struggle for truth. 

Men of large vision often display 
outsized foibles as well. No character 
in the early days of Danvinism can 
match Haeckel tor enigmatic contrast 
ot the admirable and the dubious. No 
one could equal his energ%- or the ex- 
tent of his output — mostly of high 

i-iu.ility, including volumes ot 
taxonomic description (concentrating 
on microscopic radiolarians and on jel- 
lytishes and their allies), and not 
merely theoretical effusions. Yet no 
major figure took so much consistent 
libertv' in imposing his theoretical be- 
liefs upon nature's observable tactuality. 

I won't even discuss Haeckel's mis- 
use of Darwinian notions in the ser- 
vice of a strident CJerman nationalism 
based on claims of cultural, and even 
biological, superiority — a set of ideas 
that became enormously popular and 
did provide later fodder tor Nazi pro- 
pagandists (obviously not Haeckel's di- 
rect fault, although one does bear 
some responsibility for exaggerated, 
but not distorted, uses of one's argu- 
ments [see Daniel Gasman, Hie Scien- 
tific Origins of National Socialism: Social 
Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the Ger- 
man Monist League, London: MacDon- 
ald, 1971]). Let's consider only his 
drawings of organisms, supposedly a 
far more restricted subject, imbued 
with far less opportunity for any 
"play" beyond sober description. 

I do dislike the common phrase 
"artistic hcense," especially tor its 
parochially smug connotation (when 
used by scientists) that creative human- 
ists care little for empirical accuracy. 
(After all, the best artistic "distortions" 
record great skiU and conscious intent, 
apphed for definite and fully appropri- 
ate purposes; moreover, when great 
artists have chosen to depict external 
nature as seen through our eyes, they 
have done so with stunning accuracy.) 
But I don't know how else to describe 

Haeckel believed that 
organisms retrace 
their evolution as 
embryos, when 
they "climb their own 
family tree." 

die work ot Haeckel, who was, by the 
way, a skilled artist and far more than a 
Sunday painter. 

Haeckel published books at the ex- 
plicit interface of art and science — and 
here he stated no claim for pure fi- 
delity- to nature. His Kunstformcn der 
Xatur (Art Forms in Nature), pub- 
Ushed in 1904 and still the finest work 
ever produced in this genre, contains 
loo plates of organisms crowded into 
intricate geometric arrangements. One 
can identify' the creatures, but their in- 
variably curved and swirling forms so 
closely follow the reigning conventions 
of art nouveau (called Jugendstil in 
Germany) that one cannot say whether 
the plates should be labeled as illustra- 
tions of actual organisms or as primers 
for a popular arnstic st\de. 

But Haeckel also prepared his own 
illustrations for his technical mono- 
graphs and scientific books — and here 
he did claim fldelits' to nature, as stan- 
dard practice and legitimate conven- 
tion also required. Yet Haeckel's crit- 
ics recognized from the start that this 
master naturalist, this more than com- 
petent artist, took systematic license 
in "improving" his specimens to 
make them more symmetrical or 
more beautiful. In particular, the gor- 
geous plates for his technical mono- 
graph on the taxonomy ot radiolari- 
ans (intricate and delicate skeletons ot 
single-celled planktonic organisms) 
often "enhanced" the actual appear- 
ances (already stunningly complex 
and remarkably symmetrical) by in- 
venting structures with perfect geo- 
metric regularity-. 

Tliis practice cannot be defended 
in any sense, but distortions in techni- 
cal monographs cause minimal dam- 
age, because they rarely receive atten- 
tion from readers without enough 
professional knowledge to recognize 
the fabrications. "Improved" iUustra- 
tions masquerading as accurate draw- 
ings spell much more trouble in popu- 
lar books intended for general 
audiences lacking the expertise to sep- 


THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 


arate a misleading idealizarion from a 
genuine signal from nature. And here, 
in depicting vertebrate embryos in sev- 
eral of his most popular books, 
Haeckel took a Ucense that subjected 
him to harsh criticism in his own day 
and that, in a frerce brouhaha (or 
rather a tempest in a teapot), has resur- 
faced in the last two years to haunt him 
again and even to give some false com- 
fort to creationists. 

We must first understand Haeckel's 
own motivations — not as any justifica- 
tion for his actions but as a guide to a 
context that has been sadly missing 
from most recent commentary, thereby 
leading to the inagnification and dis- 
tortion of this fascinating incident in 
the history of science. Haeckel remains 
most famous today as the chief archi- 
tect and propagandist tor a famous ar- 
gument that science disproved long 
ago but that popular culture has never 
fully abandoned, if only because the 
standard description sounds so won- 
derfiilly arcane and meUifluous: "on- 
togeny recapitulates phylogeny," other- 
wise known as the theory of 
recapitulation or, roughly, the claim 
that organisms retrace their evolution- 
ary history (or "climb their own family 
tree," to cite an old catchphrase) dur- 
ing their embryological development. 
Thus, the gill slits of the early human 
embryo supposedly repeat our distant 
ancestral past as a fish, while the tran- 
sient embryonic tail, developing just 
afterward, marks the later reptilian 
phase of our evolutionary ascent. (My 
first technical book. Ontogeny and Phy- 
logeny [Harvard University Press, 
1977], includes a detailed account of 
the history of recapitulation — an evo- 
lutionary notion exceeded only by 
natural selection itself for impact upon 
popular culture.) 

As primary support for his theory 
of recapitulation, and to advance the 
argument that all vertebrates may be 
traced to a common ancestor, Haeckel 
fequendy pubUshed striking drawings 
sh;Aving parallel stages in the develop- 

ment of diverse vertebrates, including 
fishes, chickens, and several species of 
mammals, fi^om cows to humans (see, 
for example, page 42). The figure 
below comes from Evolution of Man, an 
inexpensive popular English transla- 
tion, published in 1903, of his famous 
Anthropogenie. Note how the latest de- 
picted stages (bottom row) have al- 
ready developed the distinctive features 
of adulthood (the tortoise's shell or the 
chick's beak). But Haeckel drew the 

Fish, salamander, tortoise, and chick also 
start out looking the same, according to 
Haeckel's illustration. 

earhest stages (first row), showing tails 
below and giU sHts just under the pri- 
mordial head, as virtually identical for 
all embryos, whatever their adult desti- 
nation. Haeckel could therefore claim 
that this near identity marked the 
common ancestry of all vertebrates — 
for, under the theory of recapitulation, 
embryos pass through a series of stages 
representing successive adult forms of 
their evolutionary history. An identical 
embryonic stage can only imply a sin- 
gle common ancestor. 

To cut to the quick of this drama: 
Haeckel had exaggerated the similari- 

ties by idealizations and omissions. He 
also, in some cases — in a procedure 
that can only be called fraudulent — 
simply copied the same figure over and 
over again. At certain stages in early 
development, vertebrate embryos do 
look more alike, at least in gross 
anatomical features easily observed 
with the human eye, than do the adult 
tortoises, chickens, cows, and humans 
that will develop from them. But these 
early embryos also difier far more sub- 
stantially, one from the other, than 
Haeckel's figures show. Moreover, 
Haeckel's drawings never fooled expert 
embryologists, who recognized his 
fudgings right from the start. 

At this point, a relatively straight- 
forward factual story, blessed with a 
simple moral message as well, be- 
comes considerably more complex, 
given the foibles and practices of the 
oddest primate of all. Haeckel's draw- 
ings, despite their noted inaccuracies, 
entered into the most impenetrable 
and permanent of all quasi-scientific 
literatures: standard student textbooks 
of biology. I do not know how the 
transfer occurred in this particular 
case, but the general (and highly trou- 
bling) principles can be easily identi- 
fied. Authors of textbooks cannot be 
experts in all subdisciplines of their 
subject. They should be more careful, 
and they should rely more on primary 
Hterature and the testimony of expert 
colleagues, but shortcuts tempt us all, 
particularly in the midst of elaborate 
projects under tight deadlines. 

Therefore, textbook authors often 
follow two suboptimal routes that usu- 
ally yield adequate results but can also 
engender serious trouble: they copy 
from previous textbooks, and they 
borrow fr-om the most widely available 
popular sources. No one ever sur- 
passed Haeckel in fame and availabihty 
as a Darwinian spokesman and a noted 
professor at the University of Jena. So 
textbook authors borrowed his famous 
drawings of embryonic development, 
probably quite unaware of their noted 

No one coiild eejiuil 
Haeckel's energy or 
output, yet no major 
figure took so much 
liberty with nature s 
observable factuality 

inaccuracies and outright falsifica- 
tions — or (to be honest about dirty 
laundry too often kept hidden) perhaps 
well enough aware, they then rational- 
ized with the ever tempting and ever 
dangerous argument "Oh well, it's 
close enough to reality for student 
consumption, and it does illustrate a 
general truth with permissible idealiza- 
tion." (I am a generous realist on most 
matters of human foibles. But I confess 
to raging fiindamentalism on this issue. 
The smallest compromise in dumbing 
down by inaccuracy destroys integrity 
and places an author upon a slippery 
slope of no return.) 

Once ensconced in textbooks, mis- 
information becomes cocooned and 
effectively permanent, because, as 
stated above, textbooks copy from pre- 
vious texts. (I have written two essays 
on this lamentable practice: one on the 
amusingly perennial description ot the 
eohippus, or "dawn horse," as the size 
of a fox terrier, even though most au- 
thors, including yours truly, have no 
idea of the dimensions or appearance 
of this breed; and the other on the per- 
sistent claim that elongating giraffe 
necks provide our best illustration of 
Darwinian natural selection versus 
Lamarckian use and disuse when, m 
fact, no meaningful data exist on the 
evolution of this justly celebrated 

We should therefore not be sur- 
prised that Haeckel's drawings entered 
nineteenth-century textbooks. But we 
do, I think, have the right to be both 
astonished and ashamed by the century 
of mindless recycling that has led to 

the persistence of these dr.iwmgs in a 
large number, if not a majority, of 
modern textbooks! Michael Richard- 
son, of the St. George's Hospital Med- 
ical Scliool in London, a colleague 
who deserves nothing but praise tor 
directing attention to this old issue, 
wrote to me (letter of August 16, 

// so iiidiiy liisloiidiis kiictf all about 
the old controversy [over Haeckel's 
falsified drawiiii^s], then why did they 
not coinniiiiiicate tliis iiifonnation to 
the iniineroiis contemporary authors 
who use the Haeckel drawin<^s in their 
books? I know of at least fifty recent 
biolo<^y texts which use the drawings 
inicritically. I think this is the most 
important question to couie out of the 
whole story. 

The recent flap over this more- 
than-twice-told tale — an almost comi- 
cal manifestation of the famous dictum 
that those unfamihar with histoiy (or 

240 b 

';4..->.^^ ^''^3''/'' 

"Where are these copied from?" wrote 
Louis Agassiz above Haeckel's drawing. 

simply careless in reporting) must be 
condemned to repeat the past — began 
with an excellent technical paper by 
Richardson and six other colleagues in 
1997 {AihUoiny and End>ryology. vol. 
196), following a 1995 article by 
Richardson alone {Developmental Biol- 
ogy, vol. 172). In these articles, 
Richardson and his colleagues dis- 

cussed the original Haeckel drawings, 
briefly noted the contemporary recog- 
nition of their inaccuracies, properly 
criticized their persistent appearance in 
modern textbooks, and then presented 
evidence (discussed below) of the dif- 
ferences among early vertebrate em- 
bryos that Haeckel's tactics had covered 
up and that later biologists had there- 
fore forgotten. Richardson invoked 
this historical tale in order to make an 
important point, also mentioned 
below, about exciring modern work in 
the genetics of development. 

From this excellent and accurate 
beginning, the reassertion of Haeckel's 
old skulduggery soon spiraled into an 
abyss of careless reporting and self- 
serving utihty. Elizabeth Pennisi's news 
report in the September 5, 1997, issue 
of Science told the story well, under an 
accurate headline ("Haeckel's Em- 
bryos: Fraud Rediscovered") and with 
a textual acknowledgement that 
Haeckel's work was first "found to be 
flawed more than a century ago." But 
the shorter squib in Britain's New Sci- 
entist of September 6, 1997, began the 
downward spiral by implying that 
Richardson had discovered Haeckel's 
misdeed for the first time. 

As so often happens, this ersatz ver- 
sion, so eminently more newsworthy 
than the truth, opened the floodgates 
to a torrent of sensationaUst (and non- 
sensical) assertions: a primaiy piUar ot 
Darwinism, and ot evolution in gen- 
eral, had been revealed as fi-audulent 
after more than a century ot conrinu- 
ous and unchallenged centraht)- in bio- 
logical theory. If evolution rests upon 
such flimsy support, perhaps we should 
question the entire enterprise and give 
creationists, who have always flubbed 
their day in court, their day in the 

Michael J. Behe, a Lehigh Univer- 
sit\- biologist who has tried to resusci- 
tate the most ancient and tired canard 
in the creationist arsenal (Paley's "argu- 
ment from design," based on the sup- 
posed "irreducible complexit\'" ot in- 




tricate biological structures, a claim 
well refuted by Darwin himself in his 
famous discussion of transitional forms 
m the evolution ot complex eyes), 
reached the nadir in a recent op-ed 
piece for the New York Times (August 
13, 1999), commenting on the Kansas 
Board of Education's decision to make 
instruction in evolution optional 
Nvithin the state's science curriculum. 
(In fairness, I Uked Behe's general argu- 
ment in this piece, for he stayed away 
from irrelevant reUgious issues and at- 
tacked the Kansas decision by saying 
that we would never get a chance to 
present his supposed refutations if stu- 
dents didn't study evolution at all.) 

As his putatively strongest refuta- 
tion of Darwinism, Behe cites the er- 
satz version of Richardson's work on 
Haeckel's drawings. (Behe discusses 
only two other arguments for evolu- 
tion, one that he accepts as true [the 
evolution of antibiotic resistance by 
several bacterial strains], the second 
judged as "unsupported by current ev- 
idence" [the "classic" case of industrial 
melanism in moths], with only this 
third point — the tale of Haeckel's 
drawings — declared "downright false." 
So if this piece represents Behe's best 
shot, I doubt that creationists will re- 
ceive much of a boost from their latest 
academic poster boy.) Behe writes: 

Tlie story of the embryos is an object 
lesson in seeing what you want to see. 
Sketches of vertebrate embryos ivere 
first made in the late 19th century by 
Ernst Haeckel, an admirer of Darwin. 
In the interuetiing years, apparently 
nobody verified the accuracy oj 
Haeckel's drawings. . . . If supposedly 
identical embryos were once touted as 
strong evidence for evolution, does the 
recent demonstration of variation in 
embryos now count as evidence against 

In this context of media hype and 
public confusion, we should step back 
and reassert the two crucial points that 

accurately situate Haeckel's drawings as 
a poignant and fascinating historical 
tale and a cautionary warning about 
scientific carelessness (particularly in 
the canonical and indefensible prac- 
tices of textbook writing) but not, in 
any way, as an argument against evolu- 
tion or as a sign of weakness in Dar- 
winian theory. Moreover, as a testa- 
ment to greatness of intellect and love 
of science, whatever the ultimate va- 
lidity of an underlying worldview, we 
may look to the work of von Baer and 
Agassiz, Darwin's most vaHant oppo- 
nents in his own day, for our best illus- 
trations of these two clarifying points. 

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Of Haeckel's early pig, dog, and tortoise 
embryos, Agassiz railed, "Nothing like 
this exists in the entire literature." 

1. Haeckel's forgeries as old news (Agas- 
siz's contribution) : Tales of scientific 
fraud excite the imagination for good 
reason. Getting away with this acade- 
mic equivalent of murder and then 
being outed a century after your mis- 
deeds makes even better copy. 
Richardson reexamined Haeckel's 
drawings for good reasons and never 
claimed originality in uncovering the 
fraud. But press commentary then in- 
vented and promulgated this phony 

Haeckel's expert contemporaries 
recognized what he had done, and said 
so in print. For example, a famous 
1894 article by Cambridge University 

zoologist Adam Sedgwick ("On the 
Law of Development Commonly 
Known as von Baer's Law") included 
the following withering footnote of 
classical Victorian understatement: 

/ do not feel called upon to characterise 
the accuracy of the drawings of embryos 
of different classes of Vertebrata given 
by Haeckel in his popular works. . . . 
As a sample of their accuracy, I may 
refer the reader to the varied position of 
the auditory sac in the drawings of the 
younger embryos. 

1 must confess to a personal reason, 
emotional as well as intellectual, for 
long and special interest in this tidbit of 
history. Some twenty years ago, I 
found, in the open stacks of our Mu- 
seum's Ubrary at Harvard, Louis Agas- 
siz's personal copy of the first (1868) 
edition of Haeckel's Natilrliche Schop- 
fungsgeschichte (The Natural History of 
Creation). (After his death, Agassiz's h- 
brary passed into the Museum's general 
collection, where indifferent Hbrarian- 
ship — before the present generation — 
led to open access, through nonrecog- 
nition, to such priceless treasures.) 

I noted, with the thrill that circum- 
stances vouchsafe to an active scholar 
only a few times in a fuU career, that 
Agassiz had penciled copious marginal 
notes — some forty pages' worth of 
typed transcription— into this copy. 
But I couldn't read his scribblings. 
Agassiz, a typical Swiss polyglot, anno- 
tated books in the language of their 
composition. When he wrote margin- 
alia into a German book pubHshed in 

Once ensconced in 
a textbook, 

misinformation becomes 
effectively permanent, 
because textbooks copy 
from previous texts. 

Roman type, lie i.iMiiposi.'d tlu- notes 
in Roman script (wliicli 1 can read and 
translate). But wlieii he read a German 
book printed in old but easily deci- 
pherable Fraktur rspe (as in Haeckel's 
1868 edition), lie wrote his annota- 
tions in the correspondinij and now 
extinct Siitteriin script (w inch I cannot 
read at all). The Roman t^oddess For- 
tuna then smiled upon me, tor my sec- 
retary. Agues Pilot, had been educated 
in Germany just bctoiv the Second 
World Wiir, and she, Goii sci Dank, 
could still read this archaic script. So 
she transliterated Agassiz's squiggles 
into readable German in Roman t^■pe, 
and I could hnally sense Agassiz's deep 
anger and distress. 

In 1868 Agassiz, age 61 and physi- 
cally broken by an arduous expedition 
to Brazil, felt old, feeble, and by- 
passed, especially in the hght ot his 
continued opposition to evolution 
(his own graduate students had all 
"rebelled" and embraced the new 
Dar\vinian model). He particularly 
disliked Haeckel for his crass ma- 
terialism, his scientifically irrelevant 
anci vicious swipes at religion, and his 
haughty dismissal of earlier work 
(which he often shamelessly "bor- 
rowed" without attribution). And yet, 
in reading through Agassiz's extensive 
marginalia, I sensed something noble 
about the quality of his opposition, 
however ill-founded in the light ot 
later knowledge. 

To be sure, Agassiz waxes bitter at 
Haeckel's excesses, as in his tinal note 
appended to the closing flourish of 
Haeckel's book, including the author's 
gratuitous attack on conventional reli- 
gion as "the dark behefs and secrets of 
a priestly class." Agassiz writes sardon- 
ically: ''Gegebcii iiii Jahrc I dcr iiciicn 
Wcltcrdniing (given in year one of the 
new world order) . E. Hacckcl. " But 
Agassiz generally sticks to the high 
road, despite ample provocation, by 
marshaling the facts of his greatest dis- 
cipUnar\' expertise (in geologN', paleon- 
tology', and zoology-) to refute 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 3/00 

Haeckel's frequent exaggerations and 
rhetorical inconsistencies. Agassiz may 
have been exhausted and discouraged, 
but he could still put up one whale of a 
fight, even if only in private. 

Agassiz proceeded in generally 
measured prose untU he came to page 
240, where he encountered Haeckel's 
falsified drawings of vertebrate embry- 
ology — a subject of extensive personal 
research and writing on Agassiz's part 
(see page 45). He immediately recog- 
nized what Haeckel had done, and he 
exploded in fuUy justified rage. Above 
the nearly identical pictures of dog and 
human embryos, Agassiz wrote: 
"WoJier copiert? Gekimstelte Ahnlkhkeit 
mit Ungenauigkeit verbunden, z.h. 
Colohoma, Nabel, etc." (Where were 
these copied from? [They include] ar- 
tistically crafted similarities mixed with 
inaccuracies, for example, the eye sHt, 
umbilicus, etc.) 

At least these two drawings dis- 
played some minor differences. But 
when Agassiz came to page 248, he 
noticed that Haeckel had simply 
copied the same exact figure three 
times (see page 46) in supposedly illus- 
trating a still earUer embryonic stage of 
a dog (left), a chicken (middle) and a 
tortoise (right). He wrote above this 
figure: "Woher sind diese Figuren ent- 
nommen? Es gibt sowas in der ganzen 
Litteratiir nicht. Diese Identitdt ist nicht 
wahr." (Where were these figures 
taken from? Nothing like this exists in 
the entire Hterature. This identity is 
not true.) 

Finally, on the next page, (see page 
49) he writes his angriest note next to 
Haeckel's textual affirmation of this 
threefold identity. Haeckel stated: "If 
you take the young embryos of a dog, 
a chicken, and a tortoise, you cannot 
discover a single difference among 
them." And Agassiz sarcastically 
replied, "Natiirlich — da diese Figuren 
nicht nach der Natur gezeichnet, sondern 
eiiie von der andern copiert ist! Ab- 
s--': ■ii'lich!'' (Naturally — because these 
1 : I'es were not drawn from nature. 

but rather copied one from the other! 

2. Haeckel's forgeries as irrelevant to 
the validity of evolution or Darwinian 
mechanisms (von Baer's contribution): 
From the very beginning of this fren- 
zied discussion two years ago, I have 
been thoroughly mystified as to what, 
beyond simple ignorance or self-serv- 
ing design, could ever have inspired 
the creators of the sensationalized ver- 
sion to claim that Haeckel's exposure 
challenges Darwinian theory or even 
evolution itself. After all, Haeckel 
used these drawings to support his 
theory of recapitulation — the claim 
that embryos repeat successive adult 
stages of their ancestry. For reasons 
elaborated at excruciating length in 
my Ontogeny and Phylogeny, Darwin- 
ian science conclusively disproved and 
abandoned this idea by 1910 or so, 
despite its persistence in popular cul- 
ture. Obviously, neither evolution nor 
Darwinian theory needs the support 
of a doctrine so conclusively discon- 
firmed from within. 

I do not deny, however, that the 
notion of greater embryonic similarity, 
followed by increasing difrerentiation 
toward the adult stages of related 
forms, has continued to play an impor- 
tant, although scarcely defining, role in 
evolutionary theory — but through the 
later evolutionary version of another 

Haeckel: "With young 
embryos of a dog, a 
chick, and a tortoise, you 
cannot discover a single 
difference among them." 
Agassiz: "Naturally — 
because these figures 
were not drawn from 
nature, but rather copied 
from one another!" 

interpretation first proposed by von 
Baer in his 1828 treatise. In a pre-evo- 
lutionary context, von Baer argued 
that development, as a universal pat- 
tern, must proceed by a process of dif- 
ferentiation from the general to the 
specific. Therefore, the most general 
features of aU vertebrates wOl arise first 
in embryology, followed by a succes- 
sive appearance of ever more specific 
characters of particular groups. 

In other words, you can first tell 
that an embryo will become a verte- 
brate rather than an arthropod, then a 
mammal rather than a fish, then a car- 
nivore rather than a rodent, and finally 
good old Rover rather than Ms. Tabby. 
Under von Baer's reading, a human 
embryo grows giU slits not because we 
evolved from an adult fish (Haeckel's 
recapitulatory explanation) but be- 
cause all vertebrates begin their em- 
bryological lives with gills. Fish, as 
"primitive" vertebrates, depart least 
from this basic condition in their later 
development, whereas mammals, as 
most "advanced," lose their giUs, and 
grow lungs during their maxiinal em- 
bryological excursion from the initial 
and most generalized vertebrate form. 

Von Baer's law, as biologists soon 
christened this principle of difrerentia- 
tion, received an easy and obvious evo- 
lutionary interpretation from Darwin's 
hand. The intricacies of early develop- 
ment, when so many complex organs 
differentiate and interconnect in so 
short a time, allow little leeway for 
substantial alteration, whereas later 
stages, with fewer crucial connections 
to the central machinery of organic 
function, permit greater latitude for 
evolutionary change. (In rough anal- 
ogy, you can always paint your car a 
different color, but you had better not 
mess with basic features of the internal 
combustion engine as your future ve- 
hicle roUs down the early stages of the 
assembly Une.) 

The evolutionary version of von 
Baer's law suggests that embryos may 
give us better clues about ancestry than 

adults — but not iu'ciusc tlicy icpivsciit 
ancestral adults in miniature, as 
Haeckel and the reeapitulationists be- 
lieved. Rather, embryos indicate an- 
cestry because generalized features of 
large groups ofter better clues than the 
specialized traits of more restricted lin- 
eages cm prinklc. in a standard ex- 
ample, some parasites become so 
anatomically degenerate as adults that 

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Outraged by Haeckel's distortions, t 

Agassiz ends his marginal comments ■ 

with "Atrocious." I 

they retain no distinctive traits of their 
larger al:filiation. The adult stage of the 
parasitic barnacle Sacciilina, for ex- 
ample, becomes little more than an 
amorphous bag of feeding and repro- 
ductive tissue within the body of its 
crab host. But the larval stages that 
must seek and penetrate a crab can 
hardly be distinguished tlom the early 
stages ot ordinary barnacles. Dai-vvin 
makes the key point succinctly when 
he states in Origin of Species that "com- 
munity in embryonic structure reveals 
community of descent." 

Von Baer's law makes good sense, 
but nothing in Danvinian theory im- 
plies or requires its validity, while evo- 
lution itself clearly permits embryol- 
ogy to proceed in either direction (or 
in no hnearized manner at all): from 
embryonic similarity to adult discor- 
dance (as in groups that follow von 
Baer's principle) or from larval discor- 
dance to adult likeness (as in several in- 
vertebrate groups, notably some 
closely related sea urchin species, 
where larvae have adapted to highly 
different lifestyles of planktonic float- 
ing versus development from yolk- 
fiUed eggs that remain on the seafloor. 
Meanwhile, the highly similar adults of 

luiih species cniitiiuic to live .intl tunc- 
tion like ordinary sea urchins). 

The bottom line may now be sim- 
ply stated: the validity and relative fre- 
quency of von Baer's law remains an 
open, empirical question within evo- 
lutionary theory, an issue that can be 
resolved only by observational evi- 
dence from a wide variety of organ- 
isms. Moreover, this issue has become 
quite important in the light of current 
excitement over recent advances in ge- 
netics that have finally aOowed us to 
icientify and trace the genes regulating 
early development. In this crucial and 
valid context, Richardson wisely chose 
to reevaluate our complacency about 
the probable validity of von Baer's law. 

Richardson realized that the con- 
tinuing re-publication of Haeckel's 
fraudulent figures might be tipping our 
behefs in von Baer's favor for indefen- 
sible reasons of inherited and unques- 
tioned tradition (based on falsified 
drawing, to boot) rather than good ob- 
servational evidence. He therefore 
called attention to this Hkely source of 
unrecognized bias as he marshaled sev- 
eral colleagues to make the basic ob- 
servations that could resolve a truly 
open question, falsely regarded by 
many coOeagues as an issue decided 
long ago, partly on the strength of 
Haeckel's doctored evidence. 

The jury will be out for some time 
as they debate and actively research this 
important issue, too long neglected, in 
the sciences of natural history. But the 
1997 paper by Richardson and six col- 
leagues has already poked some impor- 
tant holes in the old and (as we now 
learn) poorly documented belief in 
early embryonic similarity among re- 
lated lineages, followed by increasing 
disparity toward adulthood. The early 
embryonic stages of vertebrates are not 
nearly so similar as Haeckel's phony 
drawings had led us to believe. For ex- 
ample, at the stage that Haeckel chose 
for maximal similarity, the number of 
somites (vertebral segments) of actual 
embryos ranges from eleven for a 

Puerto Rican tree trog to sixty for a 
blindworm (the common name for an 
unfamiliar group of limbless amphib- 
ians with a basically snakelike adult 
form). Moreover, although Haeckel 
drew his embryos as identical in both 
size and form, actual vertebrate em- 
bryos at their stage of maximal 
anatomical similarity span a tenfold 
range in body size. 

In short, the work of Richardson 
and colleagues goes by a simple and 
treasured name in my trade: good sci- 
ence. The flap over Haeckel's doctored 
drawings should leave us feeling 
ashamed about the partial basis of a 
widely shared bias now properly ex- 
posed and already subjected to exciting 
new research. But Haeckel's High Vic- 
torian (or should I say Bismarckian) 
misdeeds provide no fodder to foes of 
Darwin or of evolution. 

In other words, to give von Baer 
and Agassiz a final due, we need not 
fear the first and second stages of a sci- 
entific revolution, because we will 
fight Hke hell (perhaps unwisely and 
too well but at least with gusto) so long 
as we regard a new idea as either 
ridiculous or opposed to "religion" 
(that is, to conventional behef"). But 
we must beware the dreaded third 
stage, for when we capitulate and then 
smugly state that we knew it all along, 
we easily fall into the greatest danger 
of all — smug complacency — because 
we have ceased to question and ob- 
serve. And no situation in science 
could possibly be more abscheulich — 

Stephen Jiiy Gould teaches biology, geol- 
ogy, and the history of science at Harvard 
University. He is also Frederick P. Rose 
Honorary Curator in Invertebrates at the 
American Museum of Natural History. 

Erratum: The portrait oj Marcel 
Duchamp in the 12/99-1/00 issue of 
Natural History was incorrectly credited. 
Tlie photographer was Victor Obsatz, to 
whom we apologize for the error. 




When two scientists lent an ear to tropical stripe-backed wrens, they heard more 
than songs and calls; they heard family histories. Here they describe the unique 
vocalizing of a very social bird. . By Jordan Price and R. Haven Wiley 

On a July morning in the 
llanos, or savannas, of 
Venezuela, the air is 
muggy and thick with 
mosquitoes. Most of Hato Masaguaral, 
the cattle ranch and wildlife refuge 
where we work, is covered with water 
and mud a foot deep. On the few 
patches of dry ground, tropical rat- 
tlesnakes he low, and in shallow pools, 
spectacled caiman doze just beneath 
the surface. Occasionally we disturb the 
sleeping reptiles as we wade across the 
llanos, probably because our minds are 
less on the perils beneath our feet than 
on the staggering abundance of birds 
above our heads. 

More than 300 species of birds — 
from waterfowl and parrots to hawks 
and flycatchers — can be seen on this 
ranch alone. For birds that breed in the 
Uanos, July (the peak of the wet season, 
which extends from May to October) 
is a time of plenty, when food for 
hatchhngs is abundant. The air is fdled 
with the sounds of birds busy raising 
their famiHes. High in a grove of trees, 
a dozen or so small, gray-and-white 
streaked songbirds chase each other 
through the dense fohage. These are 
stripe-backed wrens, a species com- 
mon throughout the Uanos of Colom- 
bia and Venezuela. Two neighboring 
groups are fighting over the common 
boundary of their territories. Choos- 
ing our steps carefully, we move in for 
a closer look. 

The owner of Hato Masaguaral, 
Tomas Blohm, has preserved much of 
the ranch's natural habitat and has al- 
lowed birders, naturaUsts, and scientists 
from around the world to use it as a 
tropical research station. Biologists 

from the University of North CaroHna 
at Chapel HiU and from Purdue Uni- 
versity have intensively studied the 
ranch's stripe-backed wrens since the 
1970s. Each bird wears a unique com- 
bination of colored plastic bands for 
easy identification; most have been 
banded in their natal territories during 
their first year. By using these genealo- 
gies and DNA fingerprinting tech- 
niques, Kerry Rabenold and his team 
from Purdue have worked out the fam- 
ily histories of nearly every bird in the 
population. But our research has fo- 
cused mainly on the wrens' vocahza- 
tions. Without even looking at their leg 
bands, we can tell which birds belong 
to which family, simply by listening to 
their sounds. Our most recent work 
with stripe-backed wrens has revealed a 
complex system of vocal communica- 
tion that includes two sets of learned 
vocahzations. One of these has a pat- 
tern of cultural transmission urJike that 
of any other songbird. Passed from fa- 
thers to sons and from mothers to 
daughters, these vocahzations are as re- 
hable as any high-tech method for de- 
termining family ties. 

The development of vocal traditions 
in this species probably derives in part 
from its social organization. Stripe- 
backed wrens never hve alone. Year- 
round residents of the llanos, they are 
cooperative breeders that hve in groups 
and work together to defend perma- 
nent territories of about an acre. Each 

A pair of stripe-backed wrens sing a duet 
near their nest, a compartment in a 
multiplex assembled by a rufous-fronted 
thornbird. The silent wren on the left is 
probably a "helper." 

group is an extended family consisting 
of a breeding male and female and up 
to twelve of their offspring from previ- 
ous years. Both male and female off- 
spring help the breeders maintain the 
communal nest, feed the young, and, as 
we are seeing in the feuding famiUes 
above us, defend the home turf from 
intruding neighbors. 

In each of the families we are 
watching, the breeding male belongs to 
the patriHne, or male lineage, that has 
occupied the territory for generations. 
The breeding female has immigrated 
into the group from a nearby territory. 

\ y : T y. a c t 


Males Lisu.ilK' iviu.iiii 111 ilio territory ot 
their birch and wait to inlierit the 
breeding position when it becomes 
available, while females disperse after a 
few years of serx'ing as helpers and 
compete for vacant breediiii; positions 
in other groups. Male helpers form a 
kind ot (.[ueiie based on age: the oldest 
bird is first in line to become the next 
breeder. Like the scions of some old 
European royal families, a few unfortu- 
nate males spend their entire lives wait- 
ing to succeed their fathers. An adven- 
turous few roam tar atield and attempt 
to found their own dynasties, but most 
of these birds are unsuccessful. 

The wren tamilies squabbling above 
us produce a variety of sounds as they 
dart from branch to branch. Particu- 
larly prominent are their duets. Sung by 
a male and female, these consist of loud 
staccato notes. (The sound is the source 
of the species" onomatopoeic Spanish 
name, cliocorocoy.) Although the com- 

plex syncopated rhythms of duets can 
sound to the untrained ear as if they are 
coming from one bird, they are the ef- 
forts of two wrens perched side by side 
and interposing their notes with precise 

The stripe-backed wren's duets, like 
those of such other tropical duetters as 
the Central American bay wren, seem 
to be the equivalent of the territorial 
songs issued by individual males of 
many temperate-zone songbird species. 
They advertise a groups occupation of 
a territory and are usually performed 
by the breeding pair. The strident take- 
home message of a duet is basically, 
"This territory will be defended against 
intruders, and no, there are no available 
breeding positions here." 

But we can also detect subtler utter- 
ances that act as a kind of counterpart 
to the duets. Individual wrens emit 
nasal calls, some of which sound Hke a 
human voice drawling, "Where are 
you?"' For this reason, despite our best 
efforts to avoid anthropomorphism, we 
have come to call these querulous- 
sounding phrases WAY calls. The 
modulated nasal sounds and inter- 
spersed raspy cHcks of WAY calls are 
some of the strangest vocahzacions pro- 
duced by songbirds. 

WAY calls are not nearly as loud as 
duets and can be heard at only about 
one-quarter the distance. Often they 
are not audible much beyond a group's 
home ground. The back-and-forth 
WAY-calling of family members can, in 
fact, with a little imagination, sound al- 
most hke a human conversation. We 
believe that WAY calls are used for 
close-range communication rather than 
tor conveying information between 
neighboring groups at a distance. 

Like other songbirds, young stripe- 
backed wrens have to learn the com- 
plex sounds that characterize their spe- 
cies. Songbirds are one ot the few 
groups of animals in which vocaliza- 
tions are learned rather than genetically 
inherited (others include parrots, hum- 
mingbirds, whales, and, of course, hu- 


1976 discovery of a 50,000-year-otd 
Neandertfiat skeleton togetfier with clusters of 
ancient pollen grains and plant stalks convinced 
many sdentists that it had been deliberately 
buried with garlands of wildflowers. The Middle 
Paleolithic remains were found in Shanidar 
Cave, Iraq, with evidence of yarrow, grape 
hyacinth, and Saint Barnaby's thistle. Shanidar's 
discoverer, Ralph Solecki, opined in 1971 that 
"with the finding of flowers in association with 
Neanderthals, we are brought suddenly to the 
realization that the universality of mankind and 
the love of beauty go beyond the boundary of 
our own species." 

At about the same time, however, zoo- 
archaeologist Richard Redding excavated several 
burrows of Meriones crassus, a gerbil-like rodent 
found in the Zagros Mountains, and observed 
that the animal stores large numbers of similar 

flowers in its tunnels. Learning about the habits 
of these rodents almost three decades later, Jef- 
frey D. Sommer, of the University of Michigan's 
Museum of Anthropology, reexamined accounts 
of the Shanidar excavations and noticed refer- 
ences to preserved rodent bones and burrows 
"very close to the skeletons." Sommer proposes 
that the flowers may well have been deposited 
at Shanidar by the Persian jird. A), persicus, an- 
other inhabitant of the region's barren and rocky 
slopes. "While the investigation of Neanderthal 
cognition should continue," he concludes, "the 
flower pollen recovered near Shanidar IV is more 
likely to have resulted from the activities of ro- 
dents than Neanderthals. "('The Shanidar IV 
'Flower Burial': A Reevaluation of Neanderthal 
Burial Ritual," Cambridge Archaeological Journal 
9:1, 1999) 



r R A C T 






species of the disc-shaped, single-celled 
organism Nummulites may have been the 
biggest (and perhaps the longest-lived) 
unicellular creature that ever existed. Some 
individuals were the size of large clams. 

A subgroup of foraminifera (microscopic 
creatures that encase themselves in elaborate 
calcium carbonate shells), the largest 
nummulites lived some 50 million years ago. 
While most modern forams are amoeba-sized, 
the Eocene species /V. miliecaput reached more 
than six inches in diameter. Louise M. A. 
Purton, of Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, and 
Martin D. Brasier, of the University of Oxford, 
investigated the conditions under which these 
protozoans attained such great size. They found 
that the Eocene nummulites lived in nutrient- 
rich environments during a warm climatic 
phase. Their shells indicate that individuals 

grew slowly but steadily and may have lived 
more than a century. Although there are not 
enough remains of the largest nummulites for 
definitive studies, researchers can estimate 
their life spans by comparing fragments with 
remains of the closely related smaller species W. 
iaevigatus, which lived about six years. Studying 
alterations in carbon and oxygen isotopes in 
the fossilized shells, the researchers examined 
seasonal records of these extinct giants of the 
unicellular world and could thus extrapolate 
growth rates and ages. ("Giant Protist 
Nummulites and Its Eocene Environment: Life 
Span and Habitat Insights From 5''-^0 and S-'-^C 
Data From Nummulites and Venericardia, 
Hampshire Basin, UK," Geology 27:8, 1999) 

BIGGEST OF THE BIG Dinosaur bones 
discovered in 1994 in a remote area of 
soijtheastern Oklahoma may be the remains of 
the la.'cest of all sauropods. Four neckbones, 
the longest of which reaches nearly five feet. 

If thornbird nests are not available, 
wrens construct their own, with softer 
architectural details. 

mans). Like all learning, song transmis- 
sion in birds can involve occasional er- 
rors; if passed on to other individuals, 
these become variations that are in turn 
perpetuated. Biologists who study 
birdsong can compare the acoustic de- 
tails of different birds' sounds to deter- 
mine who their teachers were. In 
northern temperate zones, songbirds 
usually copy songs not from their par- 
ents but from unrelated members of the 
same species, usually neighbors. Much 
less is known, however, about vocal 
learning in tropical birds with more 
complicated social relationships, such as 
stripe-backed wrens. In this species, 
vocal complexity appears to mirror so- 
cial complexity. 

Rather than learning from unre- 
lated neighbors, inale stripe-backed 
wrens pick up WAY calls from their 
fathers and older brothers, and young 
females learn from their mothers and 
older sisters. Many of the birds in- 
volved in the skirmish above us are 
males, and they call more frequently 
than the females do as they chase each 
other from branch to branch. All the 
male wrens in a family have identical 
repertoires of about twelve distinct 
WAY calls, while unrelated males 
rarely share any call patterns at all. 
During territorial disputes, group- 
specific calls — like the colors of 
sports-team jerseys — signal to each 
contestant who is and who is not on 
its team. WAY calls seem not to be 
given to proclaim the whereabouts of 
a good food source or to alert the 
group to the presence of danger (the 
wrens have a distinct call to unmask 

Female wrens' WAY calls consist of 
sounds that resemble those of males. 
We cannot tell, just by hearing a WAY 
call, whether it is produced by a male 
or a female. However, females have 
smaller repertoires, usually of about 

four different calls. Male and female 
family members never share the same 
call patterns, nor do female WAY calls 
match those of males in nearby groups 
or those of any unrelated females. In- 
stead, the calls are passed firom mother 
to daughter in a separate, matrilineal 

Females often issue WAY calls 
when they search out and compete for 
breeding vacancies in other territories. 
Female relatives (usually sisters) often 
travel together and compete as teams, 
so their WAY calls, Uke those of males, 
might be used to verify who's on 
which team. Contests for breeding op- 
portunities sometimes involve females 
f5"om a number of faiTiilies and are char- 
acterized by much WAY-calling by fe- 
male competitors and resident males. 
This is one of the few situations in 
which females WAY-call intensively. 

Because we can trace genealogies in 
this population back several genera- 
tions, we have shown that WAY calls 
are passed from older to younger wrens 
with remarkable fidelity. This is illus- 
trated by our finding that while the 
males of each group normally have a 
unique set of WAY calls, there are ex- 
ceptions — cases of two widely sepa- 
rated groups in which males have a 

;\ y : T V. A C T 


nearly identical repertoire ot calls. In 
each of these cases, however, the family 
trees (compiled by Rabenold and oth- 
ers) reveal that the males in these 
groups shared a paternal ancestor that 
left one group generations earUer to 
join the other one and apparently car- 
ried his WAY-call repertoire with him. 
In two of these instances, the shared 
patriarch was a great-grandtather that 
had died as much as two decades ear- 
lier. Few other birds are known to have 
such lasting cultural traditions. 

Amid the seeming cacophony of 
calls to which young birds are exposed 
during development, wren offspring 
somehow manage to learn only the 
WAY calls produced by the parent of 
the same sex. Even under close inspec- 
tion, male and female stripe-backed 
wrens look alike (presumably to one 
another, as well), so sex-specific calls 
could serve to distinguish the sexes in 
this highly social species. Also, because 
WAY calls reflect genealogy, they may 
permit individuals to identify unknown 
relatives by comparing other birds' calls 
to their own or to the calls of known 
relatives and thus may allow them to 
direct cooperative behavior preferen- 
tially toward close kin. On the other 
hand, if a female looking for a breeding 

vacancy finds that a widowed iii.ile ot 
another group has WAY calls very like 
those of her fither, she might withdraw 
to avoid close inbreeding. Although we 
don't know for certain whether the 
birds do use the calls in this manner, we 
liave shown, by playing tape-recorded 
WAY calls to males, that individuals 
react difterently to the calls of relatives 
and outsiders. 

To a lesser extent, sex-specific 
learning is also necessary for singing 
duets. Since duets cannot be performed 
by members of the same sex, when two 
males or two females attempt to initiate 
a duet, their efforts will degenerate into 
a series of sputtering notes. A proper 
duet has a male part and a female part, 
learned from older birds of the same 
sex. But urdike the same-sex teachers 
of WAY calls, duet vocal coaches need 
not be relatives. Some duet patterns of 
neighboring families can be nearly 
identical, although playback experi- 
ments have shown that the wrens can 
identify neighbors solely by hearing 
their duets. 

The gregarious stripe-backed wrens 
of Hato Masaguaral continue to spur 
scientific inquiry. Their vocal commu- 
nication alone has proved to be rich 
and layered, with two sets of learned 
vocalizations: duets and WAY calls. 
The dual, his-her routes of WAY-caU 
transmission are unlike any previously 
described. Yet we suspect they might 
not remain unique for long. Many 
tropical birds have complex social orga- 
nizations, and many await the attention 
of rubber-booted, caiman-hopping re- 
searchers eager to learn more about 
them. Once we do, we are likely to 
discover patterns of avian communica- 
tion of equal or maybe even greater 

Jordcm Price is cuiretitly a postdoctoral asso- 
ciate at tlie Bell Museum of Natural His- 
tory at the University of Minnesota in Min- 
ncapolis/St. Paul. R. Haven Wiley is a 
professor of biology at the University of 
North Carolina in Chapel Hill. 

were found by amateur paleontologist Bobby 
Cross, who thought they were the trunks of 
prehistoric trees. Close examination of the 
bones by Richard Cifelli and his colleagues at 
the University of Oklahoma revealed that they 
belonged to a relative of Brachiosaurus. 
Extrapolating from the fragmentary bones. 

the researchers believe that the animal, which 
they named Sauroposeidon ("earth-lord lizard") 
proteles, was thirty times larger than the largest 
giraffe ever known. It was nearly a hundred feet 
long, weighed more than sixty tons, and had a 
thirty-foot neck. 

Since the dinosaur lived about 110 million 
years ago, toward the end of the Age of 
Dinosaurs, it was given the species name 
proteles, from the Greek for "completion." This 
new find may begin to fill in the blanks about 
the last North American sauropods, which may 
have left behind the gigantic tracks near Glen 
Rose, Texas, that have puzzled researchers for 
decades. {"Sauroposeidon proteles, a New 
Sauropod From the Early Cretaceous of 
Oklahoma," Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 
20:1, 2000) 


After six years of searching for tracks in the 
Raton basin of southern Colorado and northern 
New Mexico, geologist William T. Caneer discov- 
ered imprints in Upper Cretaceous sandstone 
that he believes were made by the king of 
carnosaurs. One track, in Colorado, indicates a 
Tyrannosaurus rex walking in normal, bipedal 
fashion. The New Mexico tracks may be impres- 
sions made by the animal's forearms and two- 
digit "hands." Caneer believes that the individ- 
ual was rising from a prone position. ("One of 
Two T. rex Tracks From the Raton Basin Left 
Traces of the Forearms and Hands in Addition to 
the Foot," Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 
19:3, 1999)— Richard Milner 

54 GENETICS natural 


and the 


Researchers are constantly adding 

to the list of substances that 

trigger asthma. 

They're also finding 

more and more genes 

that influence 

susceptibility. But the real problem 

may be our pampered immune systems. 

By Matt Ridley 


Inlcss you arc unlucky cnougli to have a rare 
and serious genetic condition (and most of us 
do not), the impact of genes upon your life is 
a gradual, partial, blended sort of thing. You are not 
tall or dwarf like Mendel's pea plants; you are 
somewhere in between. You are not wrinkled or 
smooth, but somewhere in between. There is a hint 
of your father's looks in your face, but it blends with 
a hint of your mother's looks, too, and yet is not the 
same as your sister's. 

Welcome to pleiotropy and pluralism. Your 


affected not by a single "looks" gene but 

by lots of them — and by nongenetic factors as well, 
with fashion and free will figuring prominently 
among them. Asthma is another good example of 
these muddy genetic waters. As a disease, it is not 
very clear-cut and certainly not genetic in the usual 
sense. In fact, it has proved maddeningly resistant to 
simplification. Everything about it screams 
pleiotropy — a technical term for the multiple ef- 
fects of multiple genes. 

Nearly every statement we might care to make 
about asthma can be challenged, including the as- 
sertion that it is getting worse. One study says that 
asthma incidence has grown by 60 percent in the 
past ten years and that asthma mortaUty has trebled. 
Another study, published just a few months later, 
claims with equal confidence that the increase is il- 
lusory; according to this argument, people are more 
aware of asthma, more ready to go to the doctor 
with mild cases, and more prepared to define as 
asthma something that would once have been called 
a cold. 

Still, the probability is that asthma and allergy 
problems are getting worse and that the cause is, in 

a word, pollution. But what kind of pollution? 
Most of us inhale far less smoke than our ancestors 
did, with their wood fires and poorly constructed 
chimneys, so it seems unhkely that ambient smoke 
can have caused the recent increase. Some modern, 
synthetic chemicals can cause dramatic and danger- 
ous attacks of asthma. Transported about the coun- 
tryside in tankers, used in the manufacture of plas- 
tics, and leaking into the air we breathe, chemicals 
such as isocyanates, trimellitic anhydride, and 
phthaUc anhydride are a new form of pollution and 
a possible cause of asthma. When one tanker over- 
turned, spilling its load of toluene diisocyanate on a 
U.S. highway, it turned the poHce officers who di- 
rected traffic around the wreck into chronic asth- 
matics. Yet there is a difference between exposure 
to pollutants at acute, concentrated levels and at the 
normal levels encountered in everyday life. So far, 
no Hnk has been found between asthma and low- 
level exposure to such chemicals. Indeed, asthma 
appears in communities that have never encoun- 
tered them. 

There are more than 250 defined causes of oc- 
cupational asthma, and the list of asthma triggers 
compiled by the American Lung Association cov- 
ers substances and factors occurring in all walks of 
life: pollen, feathers, molds, foods, colds, stress, 
vigorous exercise, cold air, plastics, metal vapors, 
wood, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, paint, sprays, 
aspirin, heart drugs — even, in one kind of asthma, 
sleep. But by far the most common asthma trig- 
ger — accounting for about half of all cases — is the 
humble dust mite's droppings. Microscopic arach- 
nids, dust mites are creatures that benefit from our 
fondness for centrally heated indoor winter stuffl- 

Adapted from the book 
Gaioiiic: Tlic 
Ataoblogriipliy o/'ii Species 
in 23 Clhiplcrs. by Matt 
Ridley. Published by 
Publishers, Inc. 
Copmght © 2000 by 
Matt Ridley. 

iR-ss, .iiid iii.ikc clicir home in carpets and bedding, 
rhcrc is material here for anybody to grind any 
axe. One theory holds that people who wash too 
much as children or who encounter less dirt m 
everyday life are more likely to become asthmatic: 
that hygiene, not lack of it, is the problem. In a 
stuciy of 14,000 children near Bristol, in Britain, it 
emerged that those who washed their hands five 
times a day or more and bathed twice a day stood a 
25 percent chance of having asthma, while those 
who washed their hands less than three times a day 
and bathed every other day had slightly over half 
that risk of asthma. The theory is that dirt contains 
bacteria, especially mycobacteria, which stimulate 
one part of the immune system, whereas routine 

AIR QUALITY As early as the 1870s, investigators were 
connecting asthma with airborne particles. Subsequent research has 
linked the disorder with dust mites, cockroach body parts, animal 
dander, molds, pollens, and flingi, as well as with smoke, ozone, 
nitrogen dioxide (the brown in smog), and other particles from fiiel 
combustion. Recently, several molecular studies showed that flimes 
from household cleaners and industrial chemical waste are also 
asthma triggers. Nonetheless, the connection between air quality and 
asthma remarns elusive: a major 1992 German study showed that the 
highly polluted city of Leipzig had a lower incidence of asthma than 
did cleaner Munich. 

vaccinations stimulate a different part. Since these 
two parts (the Thl cells and Th2 cells, respectively) 
normally inhibit each other, the modern, sanitized, 
disinfected, and vaccinated child is bequeathed a 
hyperactive Th2 system, which is specially designed 
to flush parasites from the wall of the gut with a 
massive release of histamines — hence hay fever, 
asthma, and eczema. Our immune systems, the the- 
ory goes, are set up in such a way that they "ex- 
pect" to be educated by soil mycobacteria early in 
childhood; when they are not, the result is an un- 
balanced system prone to allergy. More than one 
study supports this theory. Asthmatic attacks can be 
staved off" in mice that have been made allergic to 
egg-white proteins by the simple remedy ot forcing 
them to inhale mycobacteria. Among Japanese 
schoolchildren, all of whom receive the BCG tu- 
berculosis vaccine (a dose of weakened Mycobac- 
tcritiin tiibcmdosis) but only 60 percent of whom be- 
come immune as a result, the immune ones are 
much less Hkely to develop allergies and asthma 
than are the nonimmime ones. This may imply that 
o-ivins; the Thl ceEs some stimulation with a my- 



cobacterial inoculation triggers the suppression ot 
asthmatic effects. The message here seems to be that 
we should throw away those bottle sterilizers and 
seek out mycobacteria. 

Another, somewhat similar, theory holds that 
asthma is the unleashed frustration of the worm- 
fighting element in the immune system. Back in 
the Stone Age (or the Middle Ages, for that mat- 
ter), the immunoglobuUn E (IgE) system had its 
hands full fighting off roundworms, tapeworms, 
hookworms, and flukes; it had no time for being 
precious about dust mites and cat hair. Today it is 
kept less busy and gets up to mischief instead. 

A related hypothesis is that asthma's connection 
with urbanization is actually a connection with 
prosperity — ^wealthy people stay indoors, heat their 
houses, and sleep on feather pillows infested with 
dust mites. Yet another theory is based on the un- 
doubted fact that mild, casual-contact viral infec- 
tions (such as the common cold) are increasingly 
common in societies with rapid transport and com- 
pulsory education. There is a definite connection 
between childhood infection with mild viruses — 
such as respiratory syncitial virus — and asthma sus- 
ceptibility. Schoolchildren harvest new viruses from 
the playground at an alarming rate, as every parent 
knows. When nobody traveled much, the supply of 
new microbes soon ran out, but today, with people 
jetting off to foreign lands or meeting strangers at 
work all the time, parents pick up and pass along an 
endless supply to their children, who then sample 
one another's viruses at the saHva-rich, germ-ampH- 
fying stations we call primary schools. More than 
200 different kinds of viruses can cause what is 
known as the common cold. A theory now in 
vogue holds that chlamydia — a bacterial infection 
that causes nonspecific urethritis in women and in 
men, as well as pelvic inflammatory disease in 
women, and is becoming more common at roughly 
the same rate as asthma — may set up the immune 
system in such a way that it responds aggressively to 
allergens in later Hfe. 

Take your pick. My favorite theory, for what it's 
worth, is the hygiene hypothesis, though I wouldn't 
go to the stake for it. But one thing is for sure: we 
cannot argue that asthma is on the increase because 
"asthma genes" are on the increase. The genes 
could not have changed that quickly. 

So why do so many scientists persist in empha- 
sizing that asthma is at least partly a genetic disease? 
What do they mean? Asthma is a constriction of the 
airways. It is triggered by histamines, which are in 

turn released by mast cells, whose transformation is 
triggered by their IgE proteins, whose activation is 
caused by the arrival of the very molecule to which 
they have been sensitized. It is, as biological chains 
of cause and effect go, a fairly simple concatenation 
of events. The multiplicity of causes is brought 
about by the design of IgE, a protein that comes in 
many forms, any one of which can fit onto aknost 
any foreign molecule or allergen. Although one 
person's asthma may be triggered by dust mites and 
another's may be triggered by coffee beans, the un- 
derlying mechanism is still the same: the activation 
of the IgE system. 

Where there are simple chains of biochemical 
events, there are genes. Every protein in the chain is 
made by a gene (or, in the case of IgE, two genes). 
Some people are born with, or develop, immuno- 

GENES, GENES, GENES in 1989 Wmiam Cookson, of 
Oxford University's Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, 
and other researchers identified a gene on chromosome 1 1 that 
controls the inimunoglobuUn E response, a component of asthma. 
This was the first of several genes to be associated with the disorder. 

Several recent studies have revealed genes on chromosomes 2, 5, 
6, 12, and 13 that are strongly connected specifically ^\^th asthma 
susceptibility. Other asthma-related genes have been found on 
cliromosomes 14, 16, and (again) 11. 

That asthma has a genetic component is dramatically illustrated 
by the residents of Tristan da Cunha, an island in the mid-Adantic. 
Despite the virtual absence of pollutants and allergens there, tuUy 
one-third of the population of about 300 are asthma sufferers. 
Historical records reveal that three of the island's original fifteen 
setders had the condition. Efforts to locate a specific group of 
"asthma genes" within this community are under way. 

logical hair-triggers, presumably because their 
genes are subtly different from those of other 
people, thanks to certain mutations. That much is 
clear from the fact that asthma tends to run in fam- 
ilies (a fact known, incidentally, to Maimonides, the 
twelfth-century Jewish sage). In some places, by ac- 
cidents of history, asthma mutations are unusually 
frequent. One such place is the isolated mid- 
Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha, whose asthma- 
susceptible inhabitants are descendants of a few set- 
tlers who had the disorder. Despite a fine maritime 
climate, more than 30 percent of the inhabitants 
have overt symptoms of asthma. In 1997, seeking 
the mutations responsible for this state of affairs, a 
group of geneticists funded by a biotechnology" 



company made the long sea voyage to the island 
and collected the blood of 270 of the 300 islanders. 
To fmd those mutant genes would be to find the 
prime cause of the underlying mechanism of 
asthma and, with it, all sorts of possibiHties for a 
cure. Although hygiene or dust mites can explain 
why asthma is increasing on average, only differ- 
ences in genes may explain why one person in a 
family gets asthma and another does not. But with 
asthma, it is not obvious (as it is with, say, sickle-cell 

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS Research linking asthma risk 
with job-related exposure to chemicals and airborne particles was 
pubUshed throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Last year the British 
medical journal Lancet reported the results of a major study of 
workers in twelve industriaUzed European nations; farmers, painters, 
plastics workers, and cleaners (as well as others who were routinely 
exposed to biological and mineral dusts, gases, and fumes) were 
defmitively identified as being at the highest risk of occupationally 
induced asthma. 

anemia) that one version of the gene is "normal" 
and the other "abnormal." Back in the Stone Age, 
before feather pillows, an immune system that fired 
off at dust mites was no handicap, because dust 
mites were not a pressing problem in a temporary 
hunting camp on the savanna. And if that same sen- 
sitive IgE system was also especially good at kiUing 
gut worms, then the individuals who were (even 
theoretically) vulnerable to asthma would be the 
normal ones, and the abnormal (or mutant) indi- 
viduals would be those who were vulnerable to 
worm infestations. 

In the late 1980s, off went various groups of sci- 
entists in confident pursuit of the "asthma gene." 
By mid-1998, they had found not one but fifteen. 
There were eight candidate genes on chromosome 
5 alone, two each on chromosomes 6 and 12, and 
one on each of chromosomes 11, 13, and 14. This 
list doesn't even include the two genes on chromo- 
some 1 involved in making parts of IgE, the mole- 
cule at the center of all allergic processes. The ge- 
netics of asthma could be underwritten by all of 
these genes in varying orders of importance or by 
any combination of them — and by others, too. 

Each gene has its champion, and feelings run 
high. WiUiam Cookson, an Oxford University ge- 
neticist, has described how his rivals reacted to his 
discoveiy of a link between asthma susceptibility 
and a marker on chromosome 1 1 . Some were con- 
gratulatory. Others, usually on the basis of flawed or 






SSk "» 

Y«& " 








small sample sizes, rushed into print to contradict 
him. One wrote haughty editorials in medical jour- 
nals, mocking his "logical disjunctions" and "Ox- 
fordshire genes." One or two turned vitrioHc in 
their pubUc criticism, and one anonymously ac- 
cused him of fraud. (To the outside world, the sheer 
nastiness of scientific feuds often comes as some- 
thing of a surprise; by contrast, poUtics is a relatively 
poHte affair.) 

This is the reality of gene hunting. There is a 
tendency among ivory-towered moralists to dispar- 
age some geneticists as gold diggers seeking fame 
and fortune. The whole notion of "genes for" such 
things as alcoholism and schizophrenia has been 
mocked because such claims have often been re- 
tracted, and the retractions are taken not as evi- 
dence against this or that specific genetic Hnk but as 
a reason to condemn altogether the practice of 
seeking genetic Unks. Yet anybody who discovers 
evidence of a Hnk between a disease and a gene has 
a duty to publish it, even though the simplistic 
headlines used in the media to announce it can be 
very misleading. If the connection proves illusory, 
little harm is done. Arguably, more damage has 
been done by false negatives (reUance on inade- 
quate data to prematurely rule out important ge- 
netic links) than by false positives (suspicions of a 
link that later prove unfounded) . 

Cookson and his colleagues eventually got their 
gene and pinned down a mutation within it that 
the asthmatics in their sample carried more often 
than the nonasthmatics did. It was an asthma gene 
of sorts. But it accounted for only 15 percent of 
the explanation of asthma, and the finding has 
proved remarkably hard to replicate in other sub- 
jects — a maddening feature of asthma-gene hunt- 
ing that has recurred with distressing frequency. By 
1994 one of Cookson's rivals, David Marsh, was 
suggesting a strong link between asthma and the 
gene for interleukin 4, on chromosome 5, based 
on a study of eleven Amish famihes. That, too, 
proved hard to replicate, and by 1997 a group of 
Finnish researchers was comprehensively ruling 
out a connection between asthma and this gene. 
The same year, scientists studying a mixed-race 
population in the United States concluded that 
eleven chromosomal regions, of which ten were 
unique to only one racial or ethnic group, could be 
Hnked to susceptibility to asthma. In other words, 
the gene that most defined susceptibihty to asthma 
in blacks was not the same gene that most defined 
susceptibility to asthma in whites, nor was it the 




one chat most defined susceptibility to asthma in 

Gender differences are just as pronounced as 
racial ones. According to research by the American 
Lung Association, whereas ozone from gasoline- 
burning cars triggers asthma in men, particulates 
from diesel engines are more likely to trigger 
asthma in women. As a rule (although rules have 
exceptions, of course, including the rule that rules 
have exceptions), males seem to undergo an early 
bout of asthma and then to outgrow it, while fe- 
males develop asthma in their mid- or late twenties 
and do not outgrow it. This could explain some- 
thing peculiar about asthma inheritance: people 
often appear to inherit it from mothers but rarely 
from fathers. However, this could simply mean that 
the fathers asthma had occurred in his youth and 
been largely forgotten. 

The trouble seems to be that there are so many 
ways of altering the body's sensitivity to asthma 

IMMUNIZATION in 1995 Taro Shirakawa andJuHan Hopkin, 
of the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, and several colleagues 
studied 867 Japanese schoolchildren who had received the BCG 
vaccine (a dose of weakened Mycobacteriuw tuberculosis) in early 
childhood. The children with the strongest immune response to 
subsequent tuberculin skin tests turned out to be the least Hkely to 
have asthma. Shirakawa and Hopkin suggest that the bacteria in the 
BCG vaccine induce the kind of T-cell response that not only fends 
off the invading pathogen but also suppresses overreactions to 
airborne particles, such as dust and pollen. Exposure to cold viruses 
and other respiratory pathogens, the scientists maintain, may 
accomphsh the same task. 

triggers (at so many points along the chain of reac- 
tions leading to the symptoms) that even though all 
sorts of genes may be "asthma genes," no single one 
can explain more than a handful of cases. ADRB2, 
for example, Ues on the long arm of chromosome 
5. It is the recipe for a protein called the beta 2 
adrenergic receptor, which controls bronchodila- 
tion and bronchoconstriction, or tightening ot the 
airways — the main symptom of asthma. The com- 
monest antiasthma drugs work by attacking this re- 
ceptor. A mutation in ADRB2 might make it a 
prime "asthma gene." First pinned down in a study 
of cells derived from the Chinese hamster, the gene 
is a fairly routine, 1,239-letter recipe of DNA. In 
another study, this one done on humans, a promis- 
ing difference between some severe nocturnal asth- 
matics and some nonnocturnal asthmatics soon 



emerged: letter number 46 of y4DRJ52 was G in- 
stead of A. But the result was far from conclusive. 
Approximately 80 percent of the nocturnal asth- 
matics, but only 52 percent of the nonnocturnal 
asthmatics, had a G in that position. The study sug- 
gested that this difference was sufficient to prevent 
the damping down of the immune system that usu- 
ally occurs at night in nocturnal asthmatics. 

But nocturnal asthmatics are a small minority. 
To muddy the waters further, the very same 
"speUing" difference has since been hnked to a dif- 
ferent asthmatic problem: resistance to asthma 
drugs. People who have a G in position 46 of the 
same gene on both copies of chromosome 5 are 
more likely to find that their asthma drugs (such as 
formoterol) gradually become ineffective over a pe- 
riod of weeks or months than are people with an A 
on both copies. 

HYOlcNu Building on a hypothesis first proposed in 1989 by 
David Strachan, an epidemiologist at Saint George's Hospital in 
London, two researchers at the University College London medical 
school — Graham Rook and John Stanford — suggested in 1998 that 
excessive cleanliness may be the main factor in the rise in asthma. To 
achieve a balance between the body's two main T-cell responses, they 
argue, the immune system must be constantly "primed" with small 
doses of germs throughout childhood. In industrial societies, the 
general elimination of once-common human parasites such as the 
tapeworm, combined with an obsession wdth antibacterial products, 
may be biasing the immune system toward allergy. 

"More Hkely," "probably," "in some of": this is 
hardly the language of determinism. The A-to-G 
change at position 46 on the ADRB2 gene plainly 
has something to do with asthma susceptibiUty but 
ADRB2 cannot be called the "asthma gene," nor 
can it be used to explain why asthma strikes some 
people and not others. It is at best a tiny part of the 
tale, applicable in a small minority of cases or hav- 
ing a small influence that is easily overridden by 
other factors. 

We'd better get used to such indeterminacy. The 
more we delve into the genome, the less fatalistic it 
wiU seem. Gray indeterminacy, variable causality, 
and vague predisposition are the hallmarks of the 
system. The genome is as comphcated and indeter- 
minate as ordinary life because it (5 ordinary Ufe. 
This should come as a reUef. Simple determinism — 
whether of the genetic or the environmental 
kind — is a depressing prospect for those with a 
fondness for firee will. D 


HUMAN STRATEGY natural history 3/00 


Dedicated teams of 
couriers bring home- 
cooked meals to 
workers in India's 
commerdal center. 

Crowded in with the rest of the midmorning 
passengers on Mumbai's commuter trains 
are the dabbaimlas, men who convey heavy 
loads of metal lunch pails — dabbas — from 
their chents' home kitchens to the chents' work- 
places in offices, mills, and factories. In this modern 
Indian metropolis of more than 15 miUion, for- 
merly called Bombay, many 
workers go out for lunch, but 
others prefer traditional 
home-cooked meals — in part 
because different dietary pre- 
cepts distinguish the many 
religious, ethnic, and caste 
groups that populate the city. 

Lunch pails are 
collected from 
suburban homes, 
top, and moved 
by train, above, 
and then by 
pushcart, right, 
for delivery in 

In addition to being or 
not being vegetarian, various 
groups observe prohibitions 
against eating certain spices, 
vegetables, and other foods, 
and they obey particular caste 
and kosherhke rules of ritual 
purity that govern the prepa- 
ration of meals. As a conse- 
quence, the curries, breads, 
and rice dishes prepared by a 
mother, wife, or trusted cook 
wiU be pure, dehcious, and 
familiar. In addition, home 
cooking enhances family re- 
lationships and is cheaper 
than restaurant food. Fixing a 
freshly cooked Indian meal is 
time consuming, however, 
and often the food is not 
ready until after a worker has 
left home for the day. Somehow the two have to 
connect at lunchtime. Enter the dabbawalas. 

The business of deHvering dabbas — also known 
as tiffms, from an Anglo-Indian word for 
"lunch" — began more than a century ago, reput- 
edly at the request of a hungry English administra- 
tor. From small beginnings, spurred by enthusiastic 
Indian patronage, Mumbai's unique network of 
dabbawalas evolved. The profession includes some 
3,000 deliverymen and 2,000 supervisors; the latter 
acquire rights to a collecting territory, pay monthly 

story by Doranne Jacobson ~ Photographs by Kadir van Lohuizen 


HUMAN STRATEGY natural history 3/00 

salaries and expenses, and co- 
ordinate the operation. To- 
gether these 5,000 men see to 
the dehvery of more than 
100,000 lunches daily. 

Each carrier is responsible 
for a particular section of a 
route and is part of a relay 
team of at least four mem- 
bers. By following a code of 
colorful symbols painted on 
the lunch pails, the largely il- 
Hterate dabbawalas can trans- 
port meals from outlying 
neighborhoods to the com- 
mercial zones precisely at 
lunchtime and later collect 
the owners' empty tiffins for 
dehvery back home. The ser- 
vice costs the clients, who 
range from mill hands to gov- 
ernment servants and corpo- 
rate executives, less than $10 

Top: Assisted by 
a cook, a woman 
prepares a 
homemade meal 
for delivery to 
her daughter, 
who is an office 
worker. At the 
office, the 
daughter picks 
up the lunch pail 
(called a dabba, 
or tiffin), above, 
and digs into its 
dishes, right. 

per month (some parents use the service for school- 
children, too). For hauling the huge wooden trays 
or pushing the carts laden with dabbas, a carrier 
earns about $100 per month. 

Dabbawalas are extremely proud of their relia- 
bility: lunches are rarely late or lost. The entire sys- 
tem depends on each carrier being unfaiHngly pre- 
sent and punctual — a rarity in much of traditional 
India. Trust and cooperation are essential. The tiffin 
carriers belong to a union, which helps settle griev- 
ances among members or between members and 
cHents. But perhaps most important to the success 
of this complex network is the way dabbawalas are 
hnked through kinship and religion. 

Virtually all are migrants from rural villages near 

the city of Pune, eighty miles southeast of Mumbai, 
and obtain their jobs and learn the trade through 
family ties. They wear the traditional white cap and 
clothing of their region. In "Mumbai's Dabbawalla: 
Omnipresent Worker and Absent City-Dweller," 
an article in the March 29, 1997, issue of Mumbai's 
Economic and Political Weekly, French researcher 
Alexandra Quien explains that the carriers identify 
themselves as Marathas, a Hindu group with a mar- 
tial heritage, and their names suggest roots in the 
Kunbi agricultural caste. Their families — often 
poor — remain in the villages, and the dabbawalas' 
earnings help support them and finance the expan- 
sion of their farms. The tiffin carriers visit their 
home villages frequently and usually retire there. 

As a homeless 
woman sleeps, 
empty dabbas are 
sorted at the 
train station, 
left, for their 
Transport and 
distribution of 
the dabbas 
depends on relay 
teams of 
dabbawalas, or 
tiffin carriers, 
below, who may 
consume any 
uneaten lunches. 

The dabbawalas' identity and sense of purpose, 
Quien has observed, is also shaped by reverence for 
the thirteenth-century poet-saint Jnaneshwar and 
by membership in a sect devoted to the Hindu 
deity Vithoba, a form of Vishnu. The tiffin carriers 
have endowed pilgrims' rest houses at several sites 
sacred to their sect and wear a rosary signifying ded- 
ication to their way of life. On a rare break from 
their arduous work, a group ot dabbawalas may 
travel together on a reUgious pilgrimage. 

Changes in eating habits and an increase in 
women's employment, as well as traffic jams and 
rising costs, threaten to undermine the tiffin carri- 
ers' livelihood. But for now the dabbawalas remain 
an essential fixture of dailv life in Mumbai. D 



Where do Amazonia's top aquatic predators nest? 
Scientists find the hidden nursen'es of black caiman. 

By John Thorbjarnarson and Rom's Da Silveira ~ Photographs by Lui'z Claudio Mango 

"It is scarcely exaggerating to say that the waters of the SoHmoens are as well 
stocked with large alligators in the dry season as a ditch in England is in 
summer with tadpoles," wrote Henry Walter Bates in 1863. A British naturalist, 
Bates was astonished by the abundance of "alligators" — or black caiman — 
particularly in western Brazil, where the Amazon River is referred to as the 
Solimoes (Bates's SoHmoens). For more than four years, Bates lived in the 
sleepy village of Ega, now called Tefe, and observed the natural 
history of the region, including the habits of the area's top 
predator, the black caiman. 

During the mid-twentieth century, the black caiman became 
the target of intensive conimercial skin hunting and in the 1970s . ' 

'-^''*^* i^-aa^igered,: With the cessation of hunting, black "" , 

m^. . 


A N I M AL BEHAVIOR natural history 3/qo 

caiman have made a comeback in some areas. 
Today the largest known population resides in the 
Mamiraua Reserve, just upstream from Bates's old 
haunts. A complex of islands at the confluence of 
the Amazon and Japura Rivers, the reserve 
encompasses 2.7 million acres of forest, lakes, 
marshes, streams, and river channels. Yet every year 
the distinct features of the landscape are largely 
submerged, for this is the land of the flooded 
forest, or uarzea, that borders the v^^hite-water 
rivers of the Amazon basin. Water ebbs in 
September and October and begins to rise in 
November and December, reaching its annual 
peak in June. During an average year, the water 
level in the reserve can rise thirty to forty feet. 

In the varzea and in other Amazon aquatic low- 
lands where they are numerous, black caiman have 
probably long played an important ecological role. 
Yet little was known about the natural history of 
this large reptile — and in particular about its nesting 
habits in the varzea — when we began to study it in 
1993. We have found the Mamiraua Reserve, 
which was first estabhshed in 1990 (see p. 75), to be 
the ideal location for our work. Here the eminently 

belong to the group known as crocodiUans, which 
also includes alligators and crocodiles. Black caiman 
are slightly larger than American aUigators — adult 
males reach lengths of seventeen feet — but they are 
not easy to spot from our floating station at this 
time of year, being widely dispersed throughout the 
flooded forest. Using an old hunter's trick, how- 
ever, we imitate the caiman's calls and fmd that they 
reveal themselves by bellowing in return, at times in 
an impressive chorus of voices that emanate from 
the surrounding forest. Later, during the height of 
the dry season, the tree trunks emerge from the 
water, and the lakes and streams take shape. Caiman 
from nearby areas concentrate in the upper end of 
Lake Mamiraua, which takes on a primeval look as 
thousands of black caiman rub shoulders. In some 
areas the eyeshines that reflect our headlamps are so 
numerous that they resemble the distant lights of a 
modern metropoHs — a startHng sight in the black 
Amazonian night. 

We knew that black caiman needed dry land 
near the water's edge for nesting and that, Uke aUi- 
gators, they laid their eggs in mounds of decaying 
vegetation scraped together by the female. So dur- 





practical solution both for staying dry and for doing 
research is to hve in a floating house, or flutuante, 
built on massive logs from the spiny-trunked assacu 
trees common in the varzea. Our project's buoyant 
house, named the Cauafu, after a local palm, is sit- 
uated in Lake Mamiraua, one of the largest lakes in 
the reserve. We rope the house to trees along the 
shore to prevent it from drifting away when we are 
bufieted by strong winds during the area's frequent 

When the Amazon is high, the reserve is a water 
world where the trunks of trees disappear into dark 
depths that are home to freshwater dolphins, more 
than a hundred species offish, and the occasional 
Amazon manatee, as well as black caiman. Caiman 

Mothers defend the nests against most 
animal predators, but only the boldest 2 or 3 
percent dare take a stand against humans. 

ing our first year in Mamiraua, we began looking 
for nests, during the dry season, in the most logical 
place we could think of — the forested banks that 
line many streams in the reserve. These are some of 
the park's most elevated areas and are flooded for 
only one to two months at a time. We thought they 
would ofler female caiman the best chance of keep- 
ing eggs safe from rising water during the two to 
three months of incubation. 

But the nests we found along the stream banks 

were those of a smaller species, the spectacled 
caiman. Situated in the dense shade of the trees, the 
nests were occasionally as much as sevenil hundred 
yards from any permanent water source. We would 
sometimes also discover a four- to five-foot-long 
female not far from the nest, hidden under leaves or 
wedged beneath a fallen log. Many of the nest 
mounds had been opened by predators, and in 
some areas, half the nests had been lost to egg-raid- 
ing animals. We were surprised by this finding; the 
entire reserve constitutes a group of islands even 
when not flooded and is thus an inhospitable place 
for the usual caiman-egg predators, such as rac- 
coons and foxes. Some nests had clearly been raided 
by tegus — large black-and-white lizards common 

m the reserve — and jaguar footprints and scratch 
marks on trees near nests implicated the big cats as 
well. Typical jaguar prey (including agouti, deer, 
peccary, and tapirs) are not found on the varzea is- 
lands, so during at least part of the year, the jaguars 
turn to caiman eggs and, in some cases, we discov- 
ered, to the nesting females themselves. 

Black caiman nests, however, remained a mvs- 
tery. It was not until we started \\orking with local 
fishermen who knew their way into some of the 
most inaccessible lakes that \\'e liit the mother lode 
of black caiman nesting sites. To reach some of 
these lakes, we spent hours paddling or poling up 
vegetation-choked streams, or dragging a canoe 
through the forest that separates the lakes from the 

Opposite page: A 
hatchling is 
marked for 
After much 
vocah'zing within 
the leathery 
confines of its 
egg, a black 
caiman breaks 
out. Above: An 
bellicose female 
guards her nest 
of newborns. 

74 ANIMAL BEHAVIOR natural history 3/00 

main rivers and channels. Some of the lakes are fbU 
of the floating mats common in the varzea. These 
range from flimsy "floating meadows" of inter- 
twined grass to thick rafts of peatlike material that 
often support rooted trees and are likely to support 
nests as well. While we found some black caiman 
nests on the mats, most were on land, within two or 
three feet of the lake's edge. 

Black caiman appear to be more selective about 
where they nest than their spectacled cousins are. 
The edges of Lago Sarapaio, a small forest lake, were 

home to many nests, while the perimeter of Lago 
Samaumeirinha, a very similar lake in many respects, 
had none. On our first excursion to the lakes, while 
paddling and portaging between the two, we no- 
ticed that the water level of Lago Sarapaio, judging 
by vegetation and water marks, appeared to have 
been static over the previous few weeks. On Lago 
Samaumeirinha, in contrast, we found evidence that An aerial view of 
the water level had dropped about two and a half western Brazil's 
feet just in the preceding few days. seasonally 

While much of the Amazon floodplain appears flooded forest 



to be .1, nioinitoiKHis l.UKlscapc, vvc toLind 
by virtue of slight topographical diftl'rences, the 
water levels of certain lakes are decoupled from 
of the Amazon River, with its great yearly oscilla- 
tions. Those lakes are to some degree raised or 
"perched," and their water levels are determined by 
the height i)f the surrounding land and by the 
streams that lead from the lakes into the main Ama- 
zon. From October through December, as the river 
falls and then rises, water levels in perched lakes can 
remain high — up to thirteen feet higher than the 

More Than a River View 

The IVlamiraua Reserve is the brainchild of J. Marcio Ayres, a biol- 
ogist for the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York who first 
went to the imzca of Brazil in 1 983 to study a unique species of 
monkey, the white uakari (see "Scarlet Faces of the Amazon," Nat- 
ural History, March 1990). While living in the flooded forest, Ayres 
recognized the singular character of the region and also witnessed 
the rapid loss of its resources to commercial fishing, logging, and 
other human enterprises, largely launched from outside the area. 

As a result of Ayres's work, the Maniiraua area was first given 
regional protection in 1990 and in 1996 became the first Sustain- 
able Development Reserve in Brazil. Some 10,000 people live in 
and around Mamiraua and depend on this part of the flooded for- 
est for their daily needs; they fish, hunt, or plant a variety of sea- 
sonal crops on the higher ground. More than 100,000 other users 
indirectly depend on Mamiraua for fish or other products. Ayres's 
approach has been to inform local communities ot the results ot 
scientific research and to collaborate with them in making deci- 
sions to ensure that their activities benefit both people and wildlife. 
By Umiting commercial fishing, Mamiraua is now famous for an 
abundance of fish that are becoimng rare elsewhere. 

The reserve also offers visitors unmatched opportunities to see 
Amazonian wildlife, including freshwater dolphins; sloths; uakari, 
howler, and squirrel monkeys; macaws, kingfishers, herons, and 

many other birds; and, ot course, caiman. A source ot income for 
residents of the reserve is a tourist lodge on a floating house near 
Mamiraua Lake. 

Ayres's eflbrts to protect central Amazonia continue to bear 
fruit. In 1998, in an area contiguous with the reserve, Amana Sus- 
tainable Development Reser\'e was created. This new reserve links 
Mamiraua with Jaii National Park. Together these tracts form the 
world's largest block of protected tropical forest, covering an area 
larger than that of Costa Rica. — -J.T. 

For information on the Mamiraua Reserve, go to 


Amazon at its lowest — and also stay relatively con- 
stant. The perched lakes make ideal nesting areas for 
black caiman because they allow females to build 
their nests right along the edge of the water. Brief 
periods of intense rainfall can temporarily raise 
water levels, but they usually return to normal after 
a few days, and caiman eggs appear to be highly re- 
sistant to occasional flooding. 

Since 1 993 we have found many more of the 
small, hard-to-reach, vegetation-clogged lakes that 
serve as the breeding nuclei of black caiman in the 
Mamiraua area. They are always fuU of the rep tries. 
Once we understood the hydrology of the pre- 
ferred nesting sites, we set out to gather informa- 
tion on black caiman numbers and habits. While 
mothers defend the nests against animal predators, 
only the most aggressive 2 or 3 percent dare take a 
stand against humans. Even so, counting the eggs in 
a caiman nest does require a bit of caution. Nest 
predators are the same as for spectacled caiman, the 
top three being tegu Hzards, jaguars, and humans 
(who collect the eggs for consumption). Jaguars, 
however, appear not to prey upon black caiman fe- 
males, which can grow to almost double the length 
f)t their spectacled counterparts. And while specta- 

cled mothers hide out near nests on land, black Staying afloat in 
caiman females station themselves near nests but in the flooded 
the water. forest takes 

The average black caiman clutch consists of varied forms: 
thirty to thirty-five eggs that incubate in the warm residents of 
mounds and usually hatch within eighty-five to Mamiraua's 
ninety days. Eggs are less apt to be guarded than are Jaraua village, 
new hatchhngs. For the first few months of their top left; Amazon 
lives, young caiman nest mates stay together and are water lily, 
watched over by the female. At this stage, they eat bottom left; and 
mostly insects and other aquatic invertebrates. As black caiman in 
they grow, their diet shifts to include more verte- Lake Mamiraua, 
brate fare, including fish, some birds, turtles, and above. 
even other young caiman (both black and specta- 
cled). We believe most young stay in their home 
lakes for two or three years before moving out. 

We learned that black caiman have one nesting 
season annually but that not all females nest every 
year. On average, a female will nest every two to 
three years. During the past three years, we have 
radiotagged eleven females to keep track of their 
whereabouts year-round. We have found that even 
when not nesting, females still spend most of their 
time in the nesting lake, moving only a short dis- 
tance into the forest during the high-water period. 


Males, which do not tend eggs or young, usually 
disperse farther afield. 

Black caiman appear to have a social hierarchy. 
While most adult males do not breed but live a re- 
productively marginal existence in the less remote 
streams and lakes, such as Lake Mamiraua, where 
there are no nests, dominant males maintain terri- 
tories in the nesting lakes, where they have access to 
females. These animals are usually the biggest and 



During the flood season, the water level rises 
thirty to forty feet. The varzea becomes an 
aquatic world where trunks of trees disappear 
into dark depths. 



oldest — and also the wariest. Survivors ot the era ot 
widespread hide hunting that was most intense 
from 1950 to 1970, they avoid the prying eyes of 
hunters and researchers. Our closest encounters 
with these savvy males have taken place when we 
accidentally stepped on their backs as we hopped 
across the floating mats to reach nests. On these oc- 
casions, both parties beat a rapid retreat and sought 
to avoid any conflict. 

Caiman numbers have rebounded in the thirty- 
years since conmiercial hunting was prohibited in 
1968. That industry, which primarily enriched 
people who did not live in the region, decimated 
the reptile's numbers. Today, although caiman 
hunting is illegal in Brazil, both spectacled and 
black caiman are taken for meat and are an eco- 
nomic mainstay for many permanent native inhabi- 
tants of the Mamiraua Reserve. A vital part of our 
research involves finding out how this smaller-scale 
but widespread hunting affects caiman populations. 
The situation is complex, but basically our conser- 
vation goal is to control illegal hunting and possibly 
replace it with a managed, legal hunt that w-ould 
maintain healthy caiman numbers and also benefit 
the people who have inhabited the varzea and Uved 

Caiile graze on a 
above. In the 
flood season, 

inhabitants of 
the varzea adapt 
readily, using 
rafts to maintain 
cattle and 

78 ANIMAL BEHAVIOR natural history 3/00 

with and hunted these creatures for centuries. 
Toward this end, we are investigating the popu- 
lation ecology of both black and spectacled caiman 
and have started what is called a mark-recapture 
project. We use a Httle motorboat to search for the 
crocodilians at night, when they are active. With 
long-handled tongs we grab relatively small ones, 
and we catch larger ones by shpping a noose on a 
pole over their heads. After it struggles a bit, a cap- 
tured caiman wiU tire, and we close the mouth with 
tape or rubber bands and puU the subdued beast 
into the boat or, if it is hefty, haul it onto land or 
the floating house. We place a metal tag in the toe 
webbing on a rear foot and chp a unique pattern 
into the scales of its tail. Within ten to twenty min- 
utes of capture, the animal is released, equipped to 
do its part for conservation biology. Over time, 
these identifiable caiman wiU provide information 

On occasion, we have accidentally 
stepped on the backs of dominant male 
caiman as we hopped across floating mats of 
vegetation to reach nests. 

: arlet. macaws 
( fiuniraiia 
Eer.e, right 

on growth rates, density of population in different 
habitats, and numbers according to size. 

Even after five years of intensive study, we have 
no firm estimates of overall numbers. Mamiraua 
harbors the largest known population of black 
caiman in the world, but the nature of the habitat 
hinders a full count; we see only a fraction of the 
total. Yet more and more young are hatching, and 
as the perched lakes become saturated, young black 
caiman are dispersing into the surrounding areas 
and will eventually fill the Amazon River itself 
during the dry season, just as they did when Bates 
observed them more than a century ago. While 
caiman are certainly not as numerous as they were 
in Bates's time, we can safely say that the popula- 
tion in the reserve is growing. The species also ap- 
pears to be holding its own in parts of French 
Guiana and Guyana and throughout the lowland 
Amazon basin in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and 

The nursery lakes, by virtue of their hydrology 
and the surrounding forest, buffer the black caiman 
against the vagaries of the level of the Amazon 
River and from the worst impacts of an ever-ex- 
panding human presence in the region. If Mami- 
raua is any indication, black caiman may once again 
reign as the monarchs of the flooded forest. D 


NATURAL SELECTIONS natural history 3/00 


Beasts and 
Brain PoAver 

specializations do not make one species "smarter" than 
another, but they do make for uniquely sculpted minds. 

Do animals think? And if they 
do, how similar are their 
thoughts to our own? Tradi- 
tionally, scientists have taken two ap- 
proaches to cognition in animals, with 
the "Uberals" (often those who study 
wUd animals) arguing that there are 
clear parallels between animal and 
human thinking and the "skeptics" 
(often those who focus on captive ani- 
mals) defending the uniqueness of the 
human mind. Harvard psychologist 
Marc Hauser is in an ideal position to 
evaluate the nuances of both positions, 

because in addition to observing and 
running experiments on cotton-top 
tamarins in the lab, he has studied 
vervet monkeys in the Kenyan savanna, 
chimpanzees in a Ugandan rainforest, 
rhesus monkeys on a Caribbean island, 
and crows on a CaUfornia golf course. 
Plus he knows and lucidly cites the 
work of the evolutionary biologists, 
ethologists, neuroscientists, develop- 
mental psychologists, and cognitive 
scientists who have contributed to this 
burgeoning field. 

Hauser introduces us to an extraor- 

dinary range of feats of cognition by 
animals — from the New Caledonian 
crow, which constructs and modifies 
tools, to Clark's nutcracker, which uses 
its extraordinary spatial memory to lo- 
cate during the winter the 30,000 or so 
pine nuts that it stored during the fall. 
In this thoughtful book, Hauser gives 
evidence to support both the skeptical 
and the liberal camp. Believing that 
language is unnecessary for certain 
kinds of animal cognition, and that we 
must look at the environments in 
which animals evolved to understand 
what they think and feel, he concludes, 
"We share the planet with thinking an- 

All animals, according to Hauser, 
have the mental tools for three distinct 
tasks: recognizing objects, evaluating 
quantity, and navigation. But how do 
we know that animals universally possess 
these capacities, and how do these abil- 
ities expand or contract in particular 
species? In experiments with tamarins 
and macaques, Hauser adapted a tech- 
nique used by developmental psychol- 
ogists to show that preverbal infants 
understand cause and effect, are able to 
discriminate quantity, and know that 
objects exist even when they can't be 
seen. Like infants, Hauser's monkeys 
show little interest when two toys are 
lowered behind a screen and the same 
two toys are revealed when the screen 
is raised. But both monkeys and infants 
demonstrate that they know when the 
number has changed: if there is only 
one toy or if there are two different 
toys when the screen is raised, both 
look longer at the scene. 

Other cognitive abilities appear to 
be restricted to a few species. Great 
apes that encounter mirrors demon- 
strate self-awareness. If a researcher sur- 
reptitiously places a mark on a part of 
the ape's face that it can see only by 
using the mirror, some of these animals 
react by immediately grooming the 
spot, suggesting that they recognize 

By Charles T. Snowdon By Robert Anderson 

images of themselves. To date, how- 
ever, no monkeys have unequivocally 
passed this test, so perhaps self-recogni- 
tion and self-awareness are mental 
properties limited to humans and apes. 

Self-awareness is closely related to 
another ability: awareness of what oth- 
ers know and don't know. Teaching re- 
quires this skill, as does, de- 
liberate deception. Some studies of 
great apes and monkeys suggest that 
these primates both teach and deliber- 
ately deceive, but few such fmdings 
exist for other species. 

Humans, according 
to Hauser, are unique in 
having a language sys- 
tem capable of express- 
ins2; abstractions and of 

producing and under- 
standing unpredictable combinations of 
words. Although some monkeys make 
vocalizations that refer to specific ob- 
jects (East African vervets distinguish 
between eagles and snakes) and other 
species (chickadees and tin monkeys) 
have simple grammars, nonhuman ani- 
mals (including our closest relatives, the 
great apes) cannot create novel utter- 
ances, although some dolphins and apes 
understand novel sentences. 

Morality also appears to be absent in 
nonhunian animals, according to 
Hauser, despite a wealth of anecdotes 
to the contrary. Emotions ot guilt and 
shame have not yet been clearly 
demonstrated by systematic observa- 
tions and controlled experiments. Even 
though acts of reciprocal altruism, co- 
operation, reconciliation, and empathy 
have been documented in animals (es- 
pecially apes), Hauser questions 
whether such behavior should be cate- 
gorized as moral, because we don't 
know if the animals are thinking about 
these actions the way we would. I was 
surprised at his requirement of unifor- 
mit\' in this case, since on other levels 
of behavior he accepts the notion that 
birds and monkevs may code informa- 

Wild Minds: What Animals 
Really Think, 

by Marc Hauser. Henry Holt; 
$25; 315 pp. 

tion about objects, quantity, and space 
differently than humans do. "Although 
there is some evidence that animals 
have self-recognition," writes Hauser, 
"there is no evidence that they are ac- 
tually aware ot their own beliefs and 
desires. . . . Without self-awareness, the 
kind of empathic response that appears 
to underlie some of the experimental 
results described is impossible." 

Wild Minds provides a clear and 
critical survey of mental capacities in 
animals and introduces us to new ex- 
perimental methods — especially in de- 
velopmental psychol- 
ogy — for studying these 
processes in animals. 
Unfortunately, the 
book says little about 
the evolutionary pres- 
sures that led to human cognition. 
What selective advantage is gained by 
our having a complex and open lan- 
guage system? Why have we evolved 
self-awareness? Why was it adaptive for 
humans to develop a moral sense? We 
need to understand what led to our 
own mental abUities in order to analyze 
why it hasn't been equally beneficial for 
apes, monkeys, birds, or rats to have 
similar abilities. 

I wish Hauser had spent more time 
comparing the mechanisms of cogni- 
tion in humans and animals. Until re- 
cendy, most of our understanding of 
human brain funcdon had been depen- 
dent on abnormal samples of brain ac- 
tivity in victims of closed-head injury 
or stroke. Because of advances in brain 
imaging techniques, however, neuro- 
scientists can now examine normal 
human cognitive and emotional activ- 
ity. Such imaging is certain to give new- 
insights into the workings of animal 
minds as well. 

Charles T. Siwwdoii, a psycliologist at tlic 
University of Wisconsin, studies primate 
ccnunutiication and edits the Journal of 
Comparative Psychology. 

Digital Earth 

I have always loved maps in all their 
forms. Globes are especially nice be- 
cause they show the world without the 
distortion that comes from flattening 
it. While I still prefer the kind I can 
spin with my hand, some of the Inter- 
net's three-dimensional representations 
of our planet display information that 
you won't get from old globes, with 
their outdated political boundaries. 

The Great Globe Gallery (hum 
gathers together a remarkable number 
of globes and world maps, although 
most of the images lack proper cap- 
tions. Exploring the whole gallery 
takes time, but finding images that 
show the planet in new ways is worth 
the effort. Chck on any of the hun- 
dreds of gallery choices, and you'll be 
linked to the site where they origi- 
nated. I particularly Uked the "Atlas of 
Cyberspaces," which shows how the 
planet is wired, and "Breathing Earth," 
an interesting animation showing the 
global occurrence of earthquakes. 

For map lovers, a wonderful new 
site called TopoZone ( offers U.S. Geological 
Survey topographic maps (adjustable 
to different scales) of any spot in the 
United States. You can search by lati- 
tude and longitude or by place name, 
but make sure to check Find Tips first, 
since place names must be put in the 
correct form. Before setting out on a 
weekend drive or hike, you can print 
out a map that shows even- road and 
every rise and dip in the terrain. Al- 
though printed maps are undoubtedly 
nicer, the Internet versions are a lot 
easier to come by 

Robert Anderson is a freelance science 
writer based in Los Angeles. 


NATURAL SELECTIONS natural history 3/00 


The Pepper Trail: History and 
Recipes From Around the World, by 

Jean Andrews (University of North Texas 
Press, 1999; $50; 261 pp.) 
The dispersal of Capsicum peppers (of 
prehistoric Bohvian origin) — which 
accelerated when Columbus brought 
them back to Spain after his first voy- 
age — has made them, after salt, prob- 
ably the world's most popular condi- 
ment. Andrews describes more than 
twenty-five species and offers recipes 
for such unlikely edibles as Arizona 
chiltepin ice cream, roasted bell-pep- 
per mousse, and jalapefio truffles. 

Orchid Fever: A Horticultural Tale of 

Love, Lust, and Lunacy, by Eric Hansen 
(Pantheon Books, 2000; $23; 288 pp.) 
While examining the "lunatic fringe of 
the orchid world," Hansen exposes the 
failure of the 1973 Convention on In- 
ternational Trade in Endangered Spe- 
cies of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) 

to protect orchids. Along the way, the 
reader is treated to a dazzUng array of 
facts and lore on a plant family encom- 
passing some 25,000 naturally occur- 
ring species and 100,000 artificial hy- 
brids, some of which are used in 
products ranging from ice cream and 
aphrodisiacs to pig feed, adhesives, and 
medicine for sick elephants. 

Brother Astronomer: Adventures of 

a Vatican Scientist, by Brother Guy 
Consolmagno (McGraw-Hill, 2000; $24.95; 
256 pp) 

An American baby boomer of Italian 
and Irish ancestry, Consolmagno 
worked as a planetary scientist at MIT, 
spent two years in Kenya in the Peace 
Corps, and taught physics at Lafayette 
College before joining the Jesuits at 
the age of thirty-seven and becoming 
curator of the Vatican Observatory's 
collection of some 1,000 meteorites. 
The book mingles memoir with theol- 


"^I am simply not ready to stop learning." 

Are you^ 

"As a graduate of Columbia College's Class 

of 1955, 1 understand the value of a 


Columbia, education. When I retired from 


medicine, returning to the Morningside 


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ogy and science and includes a particu- 
larly memorable chapter on meteorite 
hunting in Antartica. 

Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Un- 
common in the Universe, by Peter 

Douglas Ward and Donald Broumlee (Coper- 
nicus, 2000; $27.50; 333 pp) 
Basing their theory on, among other 
things, Earth's unique features and 
conditions, paleontologist Ward and 
astronomer Brownlee beheve that mi- 
crobial life-forms probably permeate 
the galaxies but that complex life may 
exist almost nowhere. 

Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An 

Amazon Quest, by Sy Montgomery (Simon 
and Schuster, 2000; $26; 317 pp.) 
Weaving together legend and natural 
history, Montgomery lyrically portrays 
the Amazon's freshwater dolphins, 
which are thought to descend from 
toothed whales that entered the river 
before the formation of the Andes in- 
terrupted the Amazon's westward flow 
to the Pacific. 

Tigers in the Snow, by Peter 
Matthiessen (North Point Press, 2000; 
$25; 169 pp.) 

Those who enjoyed Dirsii the Trapper, a 
iiincteeiith-centiiry tale of exploration 
in Russia's Far East, or Akira Kuro- 
sawa's film Dersii Uzala, can return to 
the coastal Sikhote-Alin Mountains — 
now a l,34()-square-niile wildlife re- 
serve — via Matthiessen's report on the 
Siberian tiger. His account also touches 
on the tate of other tiger populations 
that once ranged from eastern Turkey 
to the Sea of japan. 

Linnaeus: Nature and Nation, by Lis- 

het Kocriicr (Hanuml Ihiiivrsily Press, 1999; 
$39.95; J 20 pp.) 

The fame of Swedish botanist Carolus 
Linnaeus rests on the system of nomen- 
clature for organisms that he began to 
develop in the 1730s. According to 
Harvard historian of science Koerner, 
Linnaeus was no visionary modernist 
but a provincial eccentric who, incor- 
porating the mercantile ideas of his day, 
dreamed of somehow creating a tropi- 
cal empire in Nordic cUmes. 

The books in "Natural Selections" are 
usually available from the Museum 
Shop of the American Museum ot 
Natural History, (212) 769-5150. 

Surround yourself with music, 
not equipment, V 11 




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For free information from the advertisers listed below, 
circle the corresponding numbers on the attached 
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7. AMMH^Discoyery Tou^rs 

Since 1 953, the American Museum ofNatutal 

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planet contact The Ecotourism Society 
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The Galapagos Explorer II, the newest 
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comfort and safety aboard our popular 
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Natural History tours to Latin America 
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Bob and Marie Bergh love to travel. Since their first 
trip with the Museum in the early 1980's, they have 
participated in eight Discovery Tours, to destinations as 
diverse as the British Isles, the Black Sea, Scandinavia, 
the Caribbean, Greenland, Antarctica, the North Pole, the 
Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. 

Exploring the world on Discovery Tours, Bob and 
Marie have become increasingly aware of the significance 
of the Museum's work. This is why they recently decided 
to provide for the Museum's future through a Charitable 
Gift Annuity. 

"We wanted to give to the Museum, especially because 
of what the Museum gives to children and young adults. 
We wanted to foster that and also give something to our- 
selves. With a Gift Annuity, we could help the Museum 
and add to our income." 

A Gift Annuity is a way to support the Museum and provide lifetime income to one or two people. 
When low-yield stock is used to fund the plan, capital gains tax is avoided. Marie offers a tip to 
Natural History readers: ''We learned about the Museum 's Gift Annuity program through this magazine, 
and we encourage you to find out about it, too!" Here are the sample rates and benefits for one person 
with a $10,000 gift: 





Annuity Payment 

























For more information, please call (800) 453-5734 or reply by mail to: Office of Planned Giving, American 
Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York. New York 10024-5192 

Please send information on: 

Gifts that provide lifetime income. 

Bequests to the Museum in my will. 

I have already included a provision for the Museum in my estate plans. 




My (our) birth date(s) is (are):_ 


Your reply is confidential and implies no obligation. 



AT THE MUSEU M natural history 3/00 


^ ^ * -L V y Musings on the ties of blood and marriage 

By Meredith F. Small 

On the left-hand side of the entrance 
to the African Peoples hall at the 
American Museum of Natural History 
is a small diorama that lacks the usual 
accoutrements of culture that a viewer 
might expect to see — no traditional 
costumes, no sacred items, no curious 
tools. Instead, it is a miniature model of 
an African village, laid out according to 
its kinship network. Garnished by a 
border of green forest, groups of tiny 
thatched huts are set together to form 
compounds, or extended households. 
Rising above them is an elaborate scaf- 
folding of sticks, triangles, and circles 
representing individuals in the village 
and their relationships. Every time I 
visit the Museum, I drift toward this 
display, arrested by its simple but pro- 
found message about connections be- 
tween people. 

It looks complex from a distance, 
but up close and with a little time, a 
visitor can follow paths of individual 
relationships and eventually figure out 
the whole system. When Unes of sticks 
are connected vertically, they show de- 
scent; double Unes connected horizon- 
tally show marriage. In keeping with 
the traditional shorthand that anthro- 
pologists employ to trace kinship, males 
are shown as triangles and females as 

Irmnediately above each compound 
are the circles and triangles of the 
household — Mom, Dad, and the 
kids — colored red, blue, green, or yel- 
low to distinguish lineage. Because de- 
scent in this village is patrilineal, off- 

spring are the same color as Dad. 
Branching from the parents are lines 
that connect to other households across 
the clearing or that reach outside the 
village. It's striking to follow a few in- 
dividuals through the maze and to see 
that by one route or another, everyone 
has connections throughout the village. 
What we don't see is how relatedness 
affects village society: how one woman 
helps another tend the field because 
their mothers are sisters or how two 
men exchange livestock because they 
have a common relative. 

And those ties also affect marriage 
rules, which may be simple and general 
(such as marrying outside the vUlage) 
or quite specific. Most common are 
cross-cousin matches (a daughter or 
son marrying the father's sister's or 
mother's brother's offspring) or parallel- 
cousin matches (a daughter or son mar- 
rying the father's brother's or mother's 
sister's offspring). 

As the diorama illustrates in micro- 
cosm, humans have a long history of 
knowing and relying on others; know- 
ing to whom we belong is inextricably 
Hnked to knowing who we are. And 
without the ties of kinship, we would 
be nothing more than a disconnected 
horde. But in Western culture, it is easy 
to forget the power of kinship. Our 
families are usually nuclear, and rela- 
tives beyond the ring of first cousins are 
virtual strangers. Frequently, young 
people dream of leaving their families 
behind and creating a new nuclear unit 
of their own. These days, knowing 

one's more distant relatives seems im- 
portant only in the doctor's office: Any 
cancer in the family, or heart disease, or 
depression? Long-lost relatives become 
significant only after the doctor recon- 
structs a patient's pedigree and esti- 
mates the probability of death from a 
particular cause. 

To compensate for this, I think we 
often imprint lines of kinship on 
friends and colleagues, transferring fa- 
milial expectations onto those with 
whom we share time but not blood or 
genes or vows, so that we can have the 
experience of an extended family. 
Young people join gangs, older people 
join clubs, and even babies are put into 
play groups. Pushed by a culture that 
favors independence and self-reliance, 
the social animal in us nonetheless 
seeks connections, even if they are 
bloodless and fragile. 

Perhaps the weakness of kinship ties 
in my own culture is what draws me to 
the diorama in the glass case. The title 
of the display is simply "Family," but 
this hypothetical African village appears 
to be knit together more strongly than 
any family I know. And so, time and 
again on my visits to the Museum, I 
find myself standing before the diorama 
and feehng a bit envious as I trace the 
connections that belong to others. 

Meredith F. Small is a umter and a professor 
of anthropology at Cornell University. She 
writes frequently for Natural History. Her 
latest book is Our Babies, Ourselves 
(Bantam Doubled ay Dell, 1999). 



In the final talk of the 7:00 P.M. series 
I he Primal Feast: Food, Sex, Forag- 
II ii;, and Love," Susan Allport, author 
ot A Sdtura! History of Pairntitit^, focuses 
ou foraging and food sharing among 
hiunans and other animals. 


In the first of a series of five 7:00 p.m. 
lectures sponsored by Earthwatch Insti- 
tute, archaeologist Christopher De- 
(.Airse talks about the medieval empire 
of Ghana's coastal kingdoms and their 
trading cultures. In the second, biolo- 
gist Rolf Peterson discusses his long- 
term studies of wolves and moose on 
Lake Superior's Isle Royale. Both talks 
are at 7:00 p.m. 

MARCH 3, 4, AND 5 

In conjunction with the body art exhi- 
bition, the Kunju Opera Theatre pre- 
sents the sixteenth-century opera Tlie 
Peony PiU'ilion. For performance times, 
call (212) 769-5315. 


As part of the "Frontiers in Astro- 
physics" series, Mario Livio, of the 
Space Telescope Science Institute, gives 
a talk at 7:30 p.m. entided "Beaut\' in 
Physics and Cosmology." 


At 7:00 p.m., Niles Eldredge, curator of 
invertebrates in the Museum's Division 
of Paleontology, gives a talk entided 
"Field Guide to the SLxth Extinction," 
about the value ot^ — and increasing loss 
ot — biodiversity. 


Natural history writer Sy Mont- 
gomery, in a slide-illustrated talk at 
7:00 P.M., discusses her four expeditions 
to the Amazon River to study treshwa- 
ter dolphins — the subject of her new 
book — -Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An 
Anhi:on Quest. 

MARCH 9, 16, 23, AND 30 

The wedands of eastern North Amer- 
ica are the subject of a series of four 
talks at 7:00 p.m. by William Schiller, 
Museum botany lecturer. (He gives the 
same talks on four consecutive Mon- 
days, at 2:30 KM., stardng March 13.) 


"■Why Is the Earth Habitable?"— a 1:30 
P.M. discussion led by Edmond A. 
Mathez, of the Museum's Department 
of Earth and Planetary Sciences — is the 
last in a series by geologists and clinia- 
tologists on issues explored in the new 
Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth. 

MARCH 15 AND 22 

"What's New in Geology" is the sub- 
ject of two 7:00 P.M. talks by Sidney S. 
Horenstein, the Museum's Coordinator 
of Environmental Programs. 


Beginning at 10:30 A.M., panehsts in a 
symposium entitled "The Changing 
World of Tattoo" discuss the cultural 

and social facets of the phenomenon in 
the United States. Call (212) 769-5176 
tor informarion. 


The seventieth annual James Arthur 
Lecture on the evolurion of the human 

brain — "Do Wc Owe Our Intelligence 
to a Predatory Past?" — will be given at 
6:00 P.M. by South African zoologist 
C. K. Brain, former director and cur- 
rcndy emeritus curator of the Transvaal 
Museum in Pretoria. 


As part of the "Distinguished Authors in 
Astronomy" series, Thomas Gold, of 
Cornell UniversitN; gi\'es a talk at 7:30 
P.M. enriried "The Deep Hot Biosphere." 


At 7:00 P.M., primatologist Birut Mar- 
ija Galdikas and primate communica- 
tion specialist Nancy Erickson Briggs 
talk about working with orangutans in 
Indonesia, as outlined in their book 
Orangutan Odyssey. 


David Hurst Thomas, curator in the 
Museum's Division of Anthropology, 
discusses his new book, Skull Wars: Keii- 
iiewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for 
Native American Identity, at 7:00 p.m. 


The Interfaith Center of New York 
and the Museum have scheduled free 
presentations, panel discussions, work- 
shops, and performances March 10-12 
and 25—26 to explore youth violence 
and discuss strategies for collaboration 
and conflict resolution. Call (212) 769- 
5 176 for information. 

For the first three weekends in 
March, the Museum celebrates Inter- 
national Women's History Month with 
the theme "Women Honoring 
Women." For a complete schedule of 
free films, storytelling, lectures, and 
dance and music performances. caU 
(212) 769-5315. 

The American Museum ot Natural 
History- is located at Central Park West 
and 79th Street in New York City. For 
hstings of events, call (212) 769-5100. 
Visit the Museum's Web site at 
\\^\^v. amnh .org. 


THE NATURAL MOMENT natural history 3/00 

Coming Out 

An Arctic ground squirrel in Alaska surveys the thawing landscape from beneath a 
retreating snowbank — a sure sign of spring. Ranging from Alaska to the Hudson Bay 
area of northeastern Canada, the species is adapted to long, harsh winters, short 
growing seasons, permafrost, and limited cover. Active foragers in summer, these 
ground squirrels scour the terrain for berries, seeds, leaves, grasses, and tubers. But 
in fall they retreat to underground burrows, which they line with grasses and 
sedges, for a seven-month period of dormancy. 

Males emerge in mid-April, when they establish territories that they defend 
against rivals. Females appear above ground shortly thereafter and take up 
residence in a male's territory. A territorial male typically impregnates several 
females, and litters of six to eight young are born in early June. 

Hibernators without peer, Arctic ground squirrels can withstand 
temperatures below 30° F for months at a time, to all appearances frozen 
solid. How they are able to survive without suffering extensive cell damage is 
a mystery that has long intrigued physiologists. — Richard Milner 

Photograph by Michio Hoshino 



- ^'-^ 






The eminently adaptable polar bear has already sur- 
vived many oscillations in the Arctic climate since its 
relatively recent evolution from the brown bear 
some half a million years ago. Recent cUmate studies in parts 
of the Arctic, however, suggest that a strong, long-term 
warming trend may be threatening its icy home. 

Polar bears wander over great distances to hunt seals, 
their preferred prey, and require ice as a platform from 
which to hunt them. The bears wait at gaps in the ice where 
seals come up to breathe and, occasionally, to bask. After the 
breakup of sea ice each spring, the bears can no longer hunt 
and may come ashore to rest and fast for weeks or months, 
living off their stored fat. But in the Eurasian Arctic and in 
western Hudson Bay (although not in the eastern Canadian 
Arctic or in northern and eastern Hudson Bay), steadily ris- 
ing spring air temperatures are causing the ice to break up 
about two weeks earHer than it did only two decades ago. 

From 1981 through 1998, my colleagues and I moni- 
tored the condition and reproductive rates of adult polar 
bears, as well as the age of their cubs at weaning. We were 
able to tranquihze, collar, weigh, and generally evaluate in- 
dividuals that had come ashore during the summer, after the 
sea ice had melted. 

Running Out 
of Ice? 

Polar bears need plenty of it. 
By Ian Stirling 

We found that the bears have been coming ashore in 
progressively poorer condition and that their birth rate has 
steadily decreased over the past two decades. In addition, 
cubs are staying longer with their mothers before being 
able to hunt seal pups on their own. The western Hudson 
Bay polar bear population is the only one known in 
which some cubs become independent at one and a half 
years (two and a half is the norm). But over the course of 
fifteen years, the proportion that matures early has de- 
clined from 40 percent to about 10 percent. Without their 
seal-hunting platforms, the bears have less time to accu- 
mulate fat. If the early-warming trend continues, the 
bears of western Hudson Bay will eventually disappear: 
they cannot move farther north because that habitat is al- 
ready occupied. 

But how secure are the northern populations of bears, 
especially those of the Eurasian Arctic, where the rate of 
climate change has been the greatest to date? Some recent 
research results are worrisome. One study found that since 
1978, the ice cover in the circumpolar Arctic has fallen by 
about 3 percent per decade; another estimate puts it at 14 
percent per decade. Moreover, the average thickness of ice 
over the Arctic Ocean has decreased by 4.3 feet since 
1976 (after holding relatively constant at 10.2 feet over 
previous decades). 

Are humans aggravating the situation by contributing 
to the increase in greenhouse gases, or is the current trend 
toward earlier ice breakup simply part of a natural cycle? 
Cores from the Greenland ice sheet do show significant 
shifts of climate in the past (the polar bear's distribution is 
now Arctic and circumpolar, but an 11,000-year-old skull 
was found near London's Kew Gardens). Similarly, trap- 
ping, hunting, and fishing records from Greenland over 
the past two centuries show marked changes in the distri- 
bution and abundance of arctic animals every fifty years or 
so, apparently because of fluctuations in the amount of sea 
ice. We also know that climatic variations from decade to 
decade are normal, so the possibility exists that the vanish- 
ing ice of Hudson Bay is part of a larger natural pattern. 

However, a group of meteorologists recently con- 
cluded, on the basis of computer weather modeling, that 
there is a less than 2 percent chance that the observed 
changes in sea ice across the entire Arctic have resulted 
from natural causes alone. How much of the current 
warming trend is attributable to industrialization is uncer- 
tain, but I believe such studies should be interpreted as yet 
another warning that we should move quickly to reduce 
production of greenhouse gases. Our canary in the coal 
mine just might turn out to be a polar bear. j 

A poiar bear waits for a seal to surface. 

Ian Stirling is a research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Ser- 
vice in Edmonton, Alberta. 


Vil\ ITllxi'IIH-|lt 


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The great green macaw, the 
second-largest parrot in the New 
World, is endangered. In Costa Rica, a 
radiotelenietry project aims to play 
a role in the birds salvation. 

COVER A pair of 
courting cuttlefish. 
Researchers are 
beginning to 
decipher how these 

PAGE 70 



In some parts of the Amazon, you 
can't go far withotit bumping into a 
member of the Brazil nut family. 



Question: How did the heart evolve 
from a simple tube to a multichambered 
pump? Answer: Quickly. 










Spring Break 



Everybody Into the Pool 


The Astrology Connection 



A Sickening Situation 


Walking on Water 


The First Day of the Rest 
of Our Life 



Anthropology and 
American Ancestry 


X-Ray Vision 




Going Online 



Computing the Organism 

I Hkl 

> > 



< < 




Major individual gifts to the Rose Center hove been provided by Frederick P. and Sandra P. Rose, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Gilder, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullmon, and David S. and Ruth L Gottesman. Support 
for the Hoyden Planetorium has been provided by a generous grant from the Chorles Hoyden Foundation. Public support of the Rose Center has been provided by the Stole of New York, the Oty of New 
York, Office of the Mayor, the Speoker ond the Council of the City of New York, and the Office of the Monhotton Borough President. Significont educotionol and programming support hos been provided by 
The Notional Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Major support from Eastman Kodok Company. ©2000 Ameiicon Museum of noiurai History, piioio Coonesy of nasa. 



In an ideal world, every article in 
Natural History would be something 
like this month's cover story on 
cutdefish — a pure celebration of the 
natural world and how it works. But 
explorations of natural science may 
also lead in disturbing directions — 
often because of the human factor. 

About 3 million years ago in 
Africa, a handful of hominid species 
(their total population numbering 
perhaps in the tens of thousands) 
hved among the multitudes of 
animals, plants, fungi, and unicellular 
organisms that populate our planet. 
These protohumans probably didn't 

Hve in perfect harmony with nature 
(if there is such a state), but they 
weren't colliding with it either. 
Their impact on the biosphere must 
have been negligible. 

We are the sole surviving 
descendants of those early Africans. 
A single species. Homo sapiens, we 
number more than 6 biUion. And 
because of our sheer numbers, we 
are bumping into, moving about, 
and altering other Hving things on 
every continent. Some of the 
consequences — erosion, 
deforestation — are obvious; many 
more are just beginning to be 

understood. As science writer 
Yvonne Baskin reports this month, 
our tiniest earthly companions 
(protozoans, fungi, bacteria, viruses) 
are being forced into novel 
encounters with some of our more 
familiar fellow travelers (frogs, 
squirrels, birds, elephants). Such 
abrupt introductions, which are the 
natural result of our species' 
procUvity to manipulate the 
envirormient, have promoted the 
emergence of diseases that threaten 
wild animals. To learn more, turn to 
"A Sickening Situation" (page 24) . 

— Ellen Goldensohn 


Emphasize the Emptiness 

Hooray for your February 2000 
issue ("To Know the Universe")! ' 
But with aU the pictures of things in 
the sky, you should have mentioned 
how much empty space there is out 
there. The ratio of space to all the 
visible and invisible matter in the 
universe is approximately that often 
cubic meters to one atom of 
hydrogen. And it takes about ten 
million hydrogen atoms to span the 
diameter of the head of a pin. 
Pete Seeger 
Beacon, New York 

Wrong Distance 

The caption on page 48 of the 
February 2000 issue says that 
Supernova 1987 A exploded 12 
million years ago. But since it is in 
the Large Magellanic Cloud, I think 
the time must be much more like 
175,000 years ago. 
Stephen Hopkins 
via e-mail 

You are right. The supernova (at 
left) exploded only 175,000 years 
ago, and the light reached us in 
1987. (Many of the nearby bright 
stars in the picture are 
members of a 
generation of stars that 
became supernovas 12 
million years ago.) We 
apologize for the 
error. — Eds. 

In Praise of Skunk 

As a nearly lifelong 
observer and writer 
about skunk cabbage, I 

thank you for again bringing that 
plant to the attention of your 
readers ("First With a Flower," 
March 2000). When bruised, the 
plant indeed releases malodorous 
substances (once described as a 
combination of burnt sugar and 
rotting onions), but the flowers in 
the enclosed spathe have a faintly 
sweet and pleasant smell and are 
even attractive to honeybees. The 
presence of dung beetles or flesh 
flies in the inflorescence can most 
easily be explained by their 
attraction to the heat produced by 
the plant, not its odor. 

The skunk cabbage's reputation 
for malodorousness has deprived 
generations of early-spring swamp 
explorers of a pleasurable 

Go smell a skunk cabbage. You 
must get really close to the opening 
of the spathe, but the effort is worth 
it. No carrion, no dung — only the 
sweet smell of spring. 
Roger M. Knutson 
Charlevoix, Michigan 


Thf macazineofthe 

Amerk:an Museum of Natural History 

Elun Goldensohn 

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Want to know more about how we make Jack Daniel's? Write us, and v:p ■; .■,[;[<: .Cu djcK 

THE ONLY REASON Jack Daniel settled in 
our hollow was this cool limestone cave spring. 

More than 134 years ago, folks said Jack Daniel 
v/asn't good at business. He built his distillery 
twelve miles from the nearest railroad. But 
Mr. Jack v/as a \vhiskeyman first and a 
businessman second. So he settled near this 
cave spring, where ironfree water flov/s 
cool and pure. One sip, we beheve, will 
tell you v/hy we still regard this spring 
so highly And why Jack Daniel, all 
things considered, v/asn't so bad at 
business after all. 



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Tennessee Whiskey • 4043% alcohol by volume (8l>36 proof) • Distilled and Bottled by Jack Daniel Distiller,, 

Lem Mollow. Propnetor. Route 1. Lynchburg (Pop. 361). Tennessee 37352* 

Placed in the Natiorud Re^isrer of Historic Places by the United States Govemrrxent. 


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A Merrill Lynch 

sponsored exhibition, 

"Leonardo's Codex 

Leicester: A 

Masterpiece of 

Science, "offered visitors 

an in-depth view of the 

scientific thinking of 

one of the greatest 

geniuses in the history 

of the Western world. 


For ten years, 
Merrill Lynch and the 
American Museum 
of Natural History 
have worked together 
to create a successful 
partnership built on a 
mutual belief in the 
importance of science 
and education, both 
today and in the next 


For well over a century, the American Museum of Natural 
History has been a leader among the world's science, 
research, and educational institutions. Since its founding 
in 1 869, it has dedicated itself to the compelling quest to 
understand the natural world and man's place in it. The 
Museum's innovative and interactive presentations educate 
about four million visitors each year on-site, and over 30 
million visitors on-line. 

To continue its 130-year tradition of excellence in scientific 
research, unparalleled exhibitions and innovative educational 
programs, the Museum relies on support from the corporate 


Over the past ten years, Merrill Lynch, one of the world's 
leading financial management and advisory companies, has 
been an important supporter of the American Museum of 
Natural History. Like the Museum, Merrill Lynch has been 
devoted to community service and leadership in education 
through its participation in educational initiatives, such as its 
ScholarshipBuilder program. On a global scale, all of the 
company's philanthropic efforts flow from a fundamental belief 
that people from all walks of life can become self-sufficient, 
fulfill their dreams, and realize their goals when offered access, 
tools, and knowledge. 

In 1996, Merrill Lynch was the principal sponsor of the 
acclaimed "Leonardo's Codex Leicester: A Masterpiece of 

A Partnership in Motion 

) Merrill Lynch 





Science," on view at the Museum from October 26, 1996 through 
January 1, 1997. This exhihition of a rare manuscript bv Leonardo 
da Vinci oftered an in-dcptli view of the scientiHc thini<ing ol one ot 
the greatest geniuses in the history of the Western world. The Codex 
Leicester, written between 1 506 and 1510, opens a window into the 
mind ol the awe-inspiring Renaissance artist, scientist, and thinker 
while illuminating both the scientific and creative process. This 
enlightening exhibition included an innovative demonstration 
room, lectures, and children's worLshops. 

An additional grant fi-om the Merrill Lynch Foundation in suppon 
ot education programs to complement the exhibition allowed over 
6,000 children from New York Cir\- public schools (grades 6-12) to 
attend the exhibidon with a guide and to pardcipate in special pre-and 
post-viewing programs. 

The tremendous success of this partnership has led to an 
enduring relationship between the Museum and Merrill Lynch, and 
in 1996 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer David Komansky 
joined the Board ot Trustees ot the Museum. 

"The American Museum of Natural History has been a source of 
inspiration, fiin, and knowledge 
throughout my life," says Komansky. 
"I'm pleased that, as a trustee of the 
Museum, I'm able to support the vital 
role this institution plays — not only in 
the metropolitan area, but wherever 
knowledge is highly valued." 


In July 1 997, Merrill Lynch made a 

$1 million, three-year gift targeted to the Museum's educational 

outreach programs. As part of the gift, Merrill Lynch 

purchased and outfitted a new "Moveable Museum," a 

recreational vehicle converted into a mobile 

exhibition space. The Moveable Museum now 

travels to schools, community centers, parks, 

street fairs and other neighborhood 

organizations throughout the five boroughs of 

New York Cit>'. 

The Merrill Lvnch vehicle features an 
exhibition called "Structures and Culture," 
which invites visitors to explore the 
traditional homes of nomadic people in 
Africa, Asia, the Middle East and North 
America and to discover what architecture 
and artitacts tell us about each culture. 

"With our new 'Structures and 

Culture' Moveable Museum, we can 

bring thousands ot school kids on a 

virtual, round-the-world expedition of 

cultural discovery," says Jeff Rodgers, 

Director of the Moveable Museum 

Program. "Merrill Lynch helped us 

create a new wa\' tor kids to learn about 

their world without ever leaving their 


"I'm especially proud that Merrill Lynch 

will be honored for helping the Museum 

fulfill its growing mission. The truth is, 

it's very easy to support an institution that 

appeals to all people and is characterized by 

excellence at every turn." 

David Komansky 

hi iIk Merrill Lynch Moveable Museum, a young visitor leaves New York City for 
a moment and explores Montana, home of the Black Feet Indians. 


In addition to supporting exhibitions both within and beyond the 
Museum's walls, Merrill Lynch allocated a portion of its three-year 
grant to the Museum Education and Employment Program (meep), 
to demonstrate its support of the Museum's "human" resources. The 
MEEP program offers meaningfijl work 
experience to 60 young adults in New 
York Cit}'. These students complete a 
rigorous training program that 
prepares them to ser\'e for sLx weeks as 
Museum guides, thereby enriching the 
Museum experience for the thousands 
of children who visit it each summer. 

As Rosa Almonte, meep Program 
Supervisor, described so well, "This 
year's program was so rich. Not only did I learn earth science in the 
Hall of Planet Earth, but I also 
learned about myself by interacting 
with such a diverse group of 


In 2000, the American Museum 

of Natural History will honor 

David Komansky and Merrill 

Lynch for their generous support 

of the institution and of science 

and education in general. "David 

Komansky and Merrill Lynch 

have been generous both with the 

Museum and the entire New York 

City communit)'. David is a During the summer: .\ r . r-un 

valued trustee and member of the supervisors Rosa Almonte and 

business communin' and we look ^""'■^^ f "'" '"'"?"'' ''•ff'''''" . 
_ . . 11.1. 1 African objects on the touch cart in 

forward to acknowledgmg his and if,e Hail of African Peoples. 
Merrill Lynch's tremendous 

support and vision as we enter the new millenniLmi,"' says Ellen V. 
Putter, President of the American Museum of Natural History. 

For information on the many programs that the American 
Museum of Natural Histor}' offers, please call 212-769-5100. 


CONTRIBUTORS natural history 4/oo 

On leave from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, where he teaches 
English literature and nature writing, Charles Bergman ("Collared Greens"), left, is 
currently spending a year as a Fulbright scholar in Mexico. While there, he has been 
taking the opportunity to learn more about Mexican and Central American wildhfe and 
conservation issues. Bergman is the author ot Orion's Legacy: A Cidtmal History of Man as 
Hunter (Penguin, 1997). He wrote about the Iberian lynx for the October 1998 issue of 
Natural History. Photographer Steve Winter has traveled the world on diverse projects 
involving ice cHmbing, river rafting, Haitian culture and music, oil pollution in the 
Galapagos, medicinal rainforest plants, nesting ridley sea turtles, and Guatemala's resplendent quetzal — as well as the 
great green macaw. His work has appeared in many pubUcations, including National Geographic, Time, and Neivsiveek. 

"I've always been fascinated by how evolution produced compUcated things Uke the heart 
and the brain," says freelance journahst Carl Zimmer ("The Hidden Unity of Hearts"), 
"and now scientists are coming up with good evidence for how it happened." Zimmer put 
his interest in evolution to good use in his last book, At the Water's Edge (Touchstone, 
1999), which describes recent research on two of the most significant transitions in the 
history of life: from fish to four-legged land vertebrate and then, back to the water, from 
land mammal to whale. This September, Simon & Schuster wiU pubHsh Zimmer's next 
book. Parasite Rex, a close look at tapeworms, flukes, and other long-underestimated 
parasitic organisms that just may turn out to be "the dominant force in the evolution of 
life." Zimmer also writes a monthly column on biomechanics for Natural History. 

Scott Mori ("Bats, Bees, and Brazil Nut Trees") is a curator at the New York Botanical Garden 
(NYBG) and director of its Institute of Systematic Botany. A native of Wisconsin, he has taught 
botany and zoology, managed herbaria in Panama and Brazil, and pursued the study of tropical 
plants in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama and throughout South America. He is shown with a 
"monkey's bailing cup," left, one of the extraordinary fruit casings produced by plants in the 
Brazil nut family. To illustrate the article, Mori chose 
Michael Rothman, renowned for his attention to scientific 
accuracy as well as his superb draftsmanship. Rothman 
accompanied Mori to French Guiana, sketching and 
photographing plants on the ground and in the canopy. Five 

years ago, he joined NYBG botanists on a field trip to the BraziUan Amazon. 

Rothman 's drawings often grace the Neu' York Times's science section, and his many 

children's books include Jaguar in the Rain Forest (Wilham Morrow, 1996) and Here 

Is the Tropical Rain Forest (Hyperion, 1997). 

Marguerite Holloway ("Cutdefish Say It With Skin") is a New York City-based 
freelance journahst speciahzing in environmental and science reporting. She has 
written for many publications, including Scientific American (where she is a 
contributing editor), Discover, Audubon, Wired, and the Nation. Her last piece for 
Natural History was "The Parado.xical Legacy of Franz Boas" (November 1997). 
HoUoway developed an inordinate fondness for cuttlefish during a fellowship several 
summers ago at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and 
has been obsessed with them ever since. 

Steve Bentsen ("Going Online") hves in McAUen, Texas, on the Mexican border, 
and splits his time between two professions: veterinary medicine and freelance 
photography. An avid birder and outdoorsman, he has published photographs in 
Birder's World, Living Bird, Outdoor Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. He 
photographed the buff-bellied hummingbird after receiving a call from the local 
media about the unusual nest. 

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14 ALMANAC natural history 4/00 



A coastal wetland nourish( 
birds, and the endangere 



jmE-^"^''^ --:4IIIIp'v9I^|Bbi^ 


"^^^^' '' '%^' 




S ' I :^si 



unerican crocodile. 


By Robert H. Mohlenbrock 



n the west coast of Mexico 
near tlie town of San Bias is a 
limestone spring called La 
Tobara (or La Tovara), part of an 
in\'iting system of lagoons, canals, and 
navigable tidelands. These wetlands are 
about a ninety-minute drive from 
5 Tepic, the state capital of Nayarit, but 1 
§ traveled there from the coastal town of 
" Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, where I was 
staying. Heading nortii on Mexico's 
I lighway 200, I soon crossed from the 
C Central into the Mountain time zone. 
The route followed the coastal plain — 
past crops of avocado, mango, papaya, 
teak, and pineapple — and then 
meandered up and down the low 
tbothills of the Sierra Madre. As I 
continued along the coast on Route 
161, a mangrove swamp lay to my lett, 
on the ocean side of the road, while to 
the right were agricultural crops, 
including peanuts and jackfruit. 

Just north of the village of Santa 
C3ruz, I stopped to investigate a small 
stream flowing toward the ocean. 
What caught my eye was a tree that 
looked very much like the black 
willow that grows in the temperate 
eastern half of the United States. It 
turned out to be a yew-leaf willow, 
which ranges from western Texas and 
southern Arizona all the way south to 
Guatemala. Near the stream I noted 
buttonbush, golden glow, and bushy 
broom sedge — all familiar plants that 1 
hadn't expected to find in Mexico. 

Eventually, just three miles south ot 
San Bias, I reached La Aguada boat 
docks, the starting point for my trip 
through the wedands (a second boat 
landing. El Conchal, is at the edge of 
town). Boarding a motorized canoe 
called a piiiign, which carried seven 
other passengers and our guide, I set 
out on one of the most captivating 
nature excursions I have ever taken. 

A member of the custard-apple family, 
anonillo grows in a mangrove swamp. 
The branches are draped with bromeliads, 
while Crinum lilies nestle in the roots. 

After leaving the dock, we glided 
slowly and quiedy along a narrow canal 
that had been cut through an otherwise 
impenetrable jungle of red, white, and 
black nuingroves, with overhanging 
branches and intricate tangles of cur\'ed 
prop roots. About ninety species of 
mangrove exist worldwide. They grow 
primarily in tropical climates between 
25° north latitude and 25° south 
latitude, in salty or brackish water — 
near the ocean, in marshes, and at the 
nuHiths of rivers. The root cell 
membranes of the red mangrove are 
specialized to reduce the intake of salt 
from the water, and the thick, leathery 
leaves of the black and white 
mangroves are adapted to excrete salt 
compounds. Red mangrove roots 
provide protecrion for young fish, 
invertebrates, reptiles, mammals, and 
birds, while the underlying peat 
formed from root matter traps soil and 
silt and filters runotf and pollution. 
As we made our way along the 
canal, we saw several American 
crocodiles sheltering within the 
mangrove roots, as well as a modest- 
sized green iguana lying on a \o\\- 
hanging branch. Although they teed 
primarily on fruits and lea\'es, iguanas 
in this part of Mexico may grow 
nearly sLx feet long; their heaw tails 
can deliver a good wallop, and their 
strong jaws can inflict a deep bite. 

Our guide was especially 
knowledgeable about the bird life and 
was able to show us three boat-billed 
herons — magnificent tropical birds 
with broad bills. This kind of heron 
uses its sensitive bill to detect edible 
food in the water (mainly fish and 
shrimp), which it can then quickly 
engulf We were treated as well to the 
sight of a common potoo, whose 
coloration blended perfecdy \\'ith the 
lichen-striated mangrove branch on 
which it sat. A distant relative of the 
whippoorwill, the potoo feeds mainly 
at night, opening its short, cun'ed bill 
very wide to sweep up fl\'ing insects. 
We also saw a citreoHne trogon, a 



gorgeous bird with a predominantly 
yellow underside. 

Passing out of the mangrove 
swamp, we entered a deep marsh. 
Large wading and diving birds seemed 
to be everywhere: great white egrets, 
great blue herons, green herons, 
tricolored herons, roseate spoonbills, 
anhingas, cormorants, and jacanas. Just 
as we were leaving the deep marsh, we 
startled a bare-throated tiger heron, 
which flew away from our paiiga, 
while a chachalaca (a pheasant-sized 
bird whose name reflects its call) went 
scurrying off among the trees. We 
followed the canal into another 
wooded area, this one with swamp 
forest trees instead of mangroves. Our 


journey ended at a beautiful lagoon 
fed by La Tobara spring. Here visitors 
may leave their pangas for a guided 
tour around a crocodile breeding farm 

that was created to help preserve these 
endangered creatures. 

Robert H. Mohlenhrock, professor emeritus 
of plant biology at Southern Illinois 
University, Carbondale, explores the 
biological and geological highlights of U.S. 
national forests and other parklands. 

For visitor information in the United 

States, caU (800) 44-MEXICO 

Or write: 

Tourist Office 


Main Plaza 

San Bias, Nayarit 

C.P 639426 


Mangrove swamp has abundant red 
mangrove and lesser numbers of black 
mangrove and white mangrove. Other 
common trees are mahoe, whose large 
yellow flowers turn red as they mature, 
and the pahn Sabal mexicana. 
Bromehads, including at least three" 
kinds of Tillandsia, bedeck many trees. 
In the understory is the giant leather 
fern, the same species that grows in 
brackish waters in peninsular Florida, 
and a huge Crinum Hly with strap- 
shaped leaves up to six feet long and 
clusters of foot-long white flowers. 

Deep marsh is dominated by false 
cane, a grass that grows as taU as twelve 

feet and has large terininal clusters of 
spikelets, and flag plant, which reaches 
ten feet and has large, cannalike leaves 
and rather small lavender flowers 
borne on slender, zigzagging stems. 
Narrow-leaf cattail, with stout stems 
up to ten feet tall, is also coiTimon. 
Somewhat shorter plants include 
Johnson grass, the same species that is 
a troublesome weed in the United 
States; a five-foot-taU deciduous fern 
(Tlielypteris interrupta) related to the 
lady fern of the eastern United States; 
and a broad-leaved arrowhead that 
appears to be the same species 
common in southern U.S. wetlands. 
Smaller herbs are marsh pennywort 

and camphor weed (both also 
common in U.S. wetlands). Other 
plants are false nettle, a pink Saint- 
John 's-wort, and two species of white- 
flowered smartweeds. Morning glory 
vines and chmbing hempweed 
scramble over much of the vegetation. 

Wooded swamp trees usually have ■ 

either thick, leathery, toothless leaves or | 
leaves divided into numerous leaflets. In 
the first group is Persea podadenia 
(similar to and related to the red bay of 
the southeastern United States) and a 
tropical species called Pisonia aculeata. In 
the second group are a species of 
mimosa and a cats-claw, members of 
the legume family. Here also are the 
pakn Acrocoinia mexicana and several 
large species of wild fig. Wild orchids 
and bromeliads find homes in the 
crotches of many trees. Visitors should 
beware of poison ivy, the same species 
found in the United States. 

Spring-fed lagoon plants include 

watercress, a species that inhabits 
spring-fed swamps in many parts of 
the world. Overhanging the lagoon are 
several handsome specimens of 
Cecropia peltata, a tree whose large 
lobed leaves have a whitish underside. 

With so much to discover on and below the ground 
under the sea ... and in outer space . . . 
(to say nothing of millions of years of history) . . . 

Shouldn't you be 
seeing EVERY ISSUE of 


From animals (feathered, finned, and furred) to plants 
and minerals: all, including mankind itself, make 
regular appearances in our gloriously full-color pages. 

Subscribe now to Natural History and receive 10 
absorbing, illuminating issues for just $25 — a 
savings of 37% off the regular newsstand price. 

Nowhere will you experience the splendid variety and 
scope of the natural world as you do in the photo es- 
says, articles, special features, and columns that make 
Natural History unique. 

In each issue you'll probe behind the science headlines 
in your daily paper ... meet the people who expand the 
frontiers of science ... encounter animals and plants 
you never knew existed ... travel into outer space and 
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that come to life more \ividly than in the pages of this 

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Use Ke\: M205 1 



Everybody Into the Pool 

Wood frogs mate and their eggs and tadpoles mature en masse. 


By Bernd Heinrich 

A male wood frog, atop a female, will hold fast until his 
mate sheds her eggs, even if it means taking a ride. 

In the Maine woods, winter lasts well 
into April, but toward the middle of 
the month I begin to watch some 
dozen roadside ditches and small pools 
in anticipation of a rite of spring. 
Snowstorms still come and go. On 
some nights, ice covers pools and 
ponds. But whenever I'm outdoors, I 
watch and Hsten. Then, from one day 
to the next, the whole surface of a 
newly ice-free pool wiU sprout wood 
frogs. Spaced almost evenly a foot or 
so from one another, dozens upon 
dozens of the three-inch-long frogs 
float with their legs extended, hind 
legs buoyed apart, and snouts above 
water. If I had failed to see the frogs, I 
would have heard them. Calling, they 
pump their cheeks in and out, Dizzy 
Gillespie— Hke. But on the pool there 
are no solos. When one frog calls, the 
others immediately join it in a concert 
of quacks and croaks. 

As I creep toward the pool for a 
closer look, all the callers fall silent. 
Many remain motionless on the 
waters surface. One step closer, and 
they submerge with kicking strokes, 
dive the foot or two to the bottom. 

and hide under last 
year's fallen leaves. But 
I've found I can conjure 
them up again, simply 
by playing back their 
calls with a tape 
recorder. Thus 
summoned, they wiU 
cautiously resurface, 
approach the sound, 
and resume their 

The wood frog, Rana 
sylmtica, is well named, 
being adapted to Hfe in 
a sylvan, or woodland, setting. In 
summer, one seldom sees these tan 
frogs with the black eye stripes, and I 
consider it a rare treat to encounter 
one in the woods near my cabin. For 
the six months of winter, they are 
totally under cover, having burrowed 
under fallen leaves or loose soil. In a 
physiological feat, wood frogs survive 
subfreezing temperatures by 
manufacturing a glucose that protects 
their cells (which shrink in winter) 
from being penetrated by ice, while 
the fluid outside the cells freezes. 
After their spring 
resurrection, they 
abound in temporary 
bodies of water left by 
the previous fall's rains 
and by melting snow. 

By far the majority of 
frogs I see are males. 
They have lost the tan 
tones of summer and 
taken on a rich chocolate 
brown to almost black 
color, save for a deUcate 
touch of yellow on the 
head and a chalk white 

belly. Occasionally, however, I see 
pinkish tan, sHghtly larger individuals. 
These are the females. I seldom see 
more than six or so females at any one 
pool, but that does not mean they are 
not there. They come to the water 
mostly under cover of darkness, when 
they can be seen crossing roads and 
heading directly toward song-filled 
pools of waiting males. 

Once at a pool, a female is not to 
be found sprawUng at the surface Hke 
the males. If she is at the surface, the 
female will be engulfed in a bobbing 
ball of up to twelve males, aU 
jockeying for position and pushing in a 
frenzied contest to claim her as a mate. 
A male takes possession by perching 
on the female's back and clasping his 
powerful front legs around her neck. 
Once this headlock — the scientific 
term is amplexus — has been achieved, 
the two can be disentangled only by 
force. (A woman once brought a thus 
engaged wood frog couple to me, 
thinking it was a two-headed frog.) 
The female, with male attached, 
sometimes dives to the bottom of the 
pool. The male will hold on until she 

"Explosive" breeders, wood frogs congregate in large 
numbers to mate in temporary pools. 

sheds her cluster of eggs. In captnity, I 
U)und, he will cling for several days. In 
the pool, he holds fast for a day or less; 
the female lays her eggs on the evening 
of their coupling. With the male 
appended, she swims lo a spawnnig 
site near submerged vegetation and 
extrudes black, gelatin-coated eggs in a 
mass that is pardally exposed at the 
waters surface. The male fertilizes the 
eggs, and the pair decouple. Each 
female deposits about a thousand 
eggs — I counted 1,025 in one egg 
mass. The gelatin encasing each egg is 
highly hygroscopic and thus c]uickly 

Black, gelatin-coated eggs form masses that swell to 
baseball size in the water. 

absorbs water. Within hours, the egg 
cluster sweOs from walnut size to 
baseball size. 

Wood frogs are aptly known as 
"explosive" breeders. After just the 
first night of the mating org); 
hundreds of egg clusters float in a 
supercluster at one end (in my 
experience, usually the eastern end) of 
the pool. Why would aH the females in 
a particular pool put their eggs into 
one big "basket"? It may lessen the 
risk of predarion; alternatively or 
additionally, it couki relate to the 
temporary nature of the breeding 
places, where timing is a matter ot life 
and death to the young. I've measured 
egg-mass temperature and found it to 
be at least 2°C higher in communal 
masses — ^where the output from many 
females is bunched up — than in a 

single mass. This temperature 
difference speeds up the hatching rate 
of the eggs by a day or more. And a 
clumping of thick, gelatinous masses 
reduces convective heat loss as the 
black eggs are warmed by the sun. 

Speedy development ot the eggs 
.iiid tadpoles is crucial. As a survival 
strateg)' tor their offspring, wood frogs 
generally avoid permanent bodies ot 
water, which may contain fish, 
leeches, and other predators. Suitable 
temporarv' pools are colonized quickly; 
one that I dug by backhoe near my 
cabin attracted dozens of breeding 

wood frogs (determined 
by counting egg masses) 
the first spring and 
nearly a hundred the 
second. But while eggs 
and tadpoles thus escape 
becoming a meal for a 
predator, they must 
develop into froglets by 
the time the pools have 
dried up in late June or 
early July. 

The tadpoles of some 
species, such as the bull- 
frog, take as long as two 
years to metamorphose 
into young frogs. Wood frogs take just 
fort\'-five days on average to go from 
egg to tadpole to froglet. This 
metamorphosis is fast even when 
compared with the development rate 
of other amphibians that breed in 
temporary pools. Also, unlike other 
tadpoles I know of here in the 
Northeast, wood frog tadpoles will, 
Hke fish, swim around in schools. I 
have seen them swimming in long 
Unes and sometimes in giant circular 
formations. Slow moving, they stay- 
close to the water surface. At frequent 
intervals one can see their silver beOies 
as they twist about at the surface to 
gulp air or graze on algae. 

Many questions posed by the wood 
fi-og's unusual, seemingly social, 
behavior are not yet answered. Why 
do the males go precisely to those 

pools where the competition for 
temales is greatest? Why do they prefer 
to congregate in specific pools when 
they could go to a pool with no other 
wood frogs and thus avoid 
competition? Why do they join the 
chorus to produce even louder, and 
presumably stronger, vocal lures that 
attract still more males to the arena to 
compete? I think one answer is that 
their behavior is driven by females. 
Given the ephemeral nature of the 
pools, females need to deposit eggs 
early and quickly. This means going to 
pools where the presence of males — 
and plenr\' of them — is guaranteed. 
The same aural cue that entices the 
females also lures more males: the 
loudest chorus will be the one that is 
closest and that also has drawn the 
most females. 1 am reminded of some 
species of tropical fireflies in which 
males also converge and "call" (flash) 
synchronously to enhance a communal 
mating display. 

Wood frog reproduction is a boom- 
and-bust atfair. Of an original clutch 
of a thousand eggs, almost all may 
develop into froglets and leave the 
pool, or almost all may perish. In late 
(une, when the pools shrink, the 
bottoms sometimes turn soupy and 
black with congealed masses of dead 
tadpoles. As long as there is a Utde 
water, the dying individuals sustain the 
others, their bodies pro\dding 
sustenance to their fellows. Just before 
metamorphosis, the tadpoles weigh 
only- a fraction of an ounce. Within 
several day's, they lose much ot their 
larval body weight, absorb their one- 
inch tails, and sprout legs. The tiny, 
freshly metamorphosed wood froglets 
then leave the water for a life on land. 
They usually reach at least half their 
adult body weight by summer's end in 
the north woods. 

Benid Hciiiriili is a professor of biology at 
rlie University of I ennont in Burlington. 
His latest hook is Mind of the Raven 
(Cliff Street Books, 1999). 

20 ALMANAC natural history 4/00 


By Richard Panek 


On the night of April H, 

Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter 

form a tight triangle. 

' Aldebaran 


. Jupiter 

planets — against the 
seemingly immovable 
backdrop of stars. 

But in the broad sense, 
conjunctions mark mere 
cosmic coincidences, and 
even then, only from the 
point of view of an 
observer on Earth. Once 
our planet lost its position 
of privilege as the center of 
the cosmos, that point of 
view lost its relevance, 
except where it might 
prove useful for science. 
Studies of the motions of 
Venus as it neared inferior 
and superior conjunctions — 
passing on our side and on 
the far side of the Sun — 
helped validate the 
hehocentric model of the 
cosmos (see "Venusian 
Testimony," Natural History, 
6/99). Observations of 

The Astrology Connection 

Celestial events are alw^ays significant — or are they? 

When celestial conjunctions 
occur, they often belong to 
the close-but-no-cigar 
school of sky watching. Technically, a 
conjunction describes a precise 
alignment of heavenly bodies that 
happen to have the same celestial 
longitude — that is, they appear to line 
up in the sky, one directly above the 
other. On occasion, the bodies line up 
one in front qfthe other, a circumstance 
that historically has lent itself to all 
manner of scientific investigations. But 
on an informal basis, the word 
"conjunction" generically refers to the 
fleeting convergence of celestial 
objects, a happenstance that's 

aesthetically pleasing — and 
astronomically significant for that 
reason alone. When a serendipitous 
close gathering of celestial objects is 
assigned greater significance, the 
reason is likely to be astrological. 

At one time, astronomy and 
astrology were virtually 
indistinguishable. Astronomers of old 
might study the sky to help plan the 
hai-vest or coordinate a calendar, but 
they earned their keep primarily by 
prophesying favorable heavenly portents 
for the rulers who employed them. 
And those portents tended to focus on 
the movements of the mysterious 
wanderers — the Sun, Moon, and 

Mercury and Venus transiting the 
Sun — passing directly in front of it, 
from the point of view of an observer 
on Earth — helped determine the scale 
of the solar system (see "Mercury in 
Transit," Natural History, 11/99). And 
in 1919, a total solar eclipse (an 
extreme example, being a conjunction 
that's also an occultation) helped 
validate Einstein's general theory of 

But what about plain old 
conjunctions in the broadest sense? For 
acadeinic purposes, virtually their only 
astronomical significance is measured 
in terms of insights they might offer 
into ancient astrology. (For a riveting 












22!ALMANAC natural history 4/00 

example of how conjunction 
scholarship can open a window on 
ancient cultures, see Michael R. 
Mokar's 1999 book Tlie Star of 
Bethlehem: Tlie Legacy of the Magi.) 

This is not to say that people don't 
still confuse astronomy and astrology 
(or that, heaven knows, astrology isn't 
still popular). In fact, I can personally 
attest to having been asked many 
times about my writing on 
"astrology." And a subscription 
mailing referring to this magazine's 
coverage of "astrology" was sent out 
for years before an alert reader fmaUy 
noticed it. (A similar fate sometimes 
befalls cosmology. A recent press 
release for a book by physicist 
Lawrence M. Krauss highlighted his 
research into dark matter as "one of 
the great paradoxes of modern 
cosmetology" — indeed, as a problem 
"now connected with two of the 
hottest areas in recent cosmetology." 
In this case, however, cosmology and 

cosmetology don't bear any historical 
relation to each other, except that 
both vocations can get a little hairy.) 

Even when popular interest in a 
planetary conjunction isn't purely 
astrological, it can still be the result of 
mere superstition. This year, a 
gathering of planets on May 5 has 
generated a great deal of apocalyptic 
speculation on the Internet, specifically 
about whether the combined 
gravitational pull of Mercury, Venus, 
Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn on the far 
side of the Sun will be enough to 
knock Earth off its axis. (It won't.) To 
viewers on Earth, alas, that particular 
spectacular aHgnment will be lost in the 
glare of the Sun. 

This month, however, offers a rare 
and equally notable conjunction that 
will be fully visible. On April 1 1 , just 
after sunset, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter 
will form an equilateral triangle within 
an area of the western sky about half 
the size of your fist at arm's length. 

Jupiter will be the brightest of the trio 
and Mars the dimmest, although easily 
identifiable by its reddish hue. Should 
the sky be cloudy on April 11, don't 
despair; over the following five nights, 
the three planets will still appear 
unusually close together — closer than 
at any time since 1921. In addition, 
they'll be joined by a crescent Moon 
for a few nights starting April 6. 

The only possible meaning offered 
by such a conjunction would be 
astrological. Nonetheless, this 
aesthetically auspicious occasion, like 
all celestial events, will indeed be an 
important one for professional 
astronomers. And you'U even be able 
to observe it just as they will. Simply 
foUow these directions: go outside and 
look up. 

Richard Panek is the author of Seeing and 
BeHeving: How the Telescope Opened 
Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens 
(Penguin, 1999). 



jponsofed by: 

' Woi^lds you've never explored^ 
I Creatures you've never seen. 
I television event you'll never forget. 



By Joe Rao 

Mercury and Venus .uv .ill but 
invisibli.- chis luoiith because of their 
close proximity to the Sun. Butli 
planets are deeply immersed in tiie 
bright morning t\vilight and rise less 
than an hour before the Sun. A very 
slender crescent Moon passes south of 
the planets on the mornings of April 2 
and 3 but will probably be of litde 
help in guiding you to them. These 
two planets pass within half a degree of 
each other on April 28. This would 
make for a splendid sight were it not 
for the fact that on this date, they are 
too close to the Sun to be visible. 

Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn put on a 

spectacular show during the first half of 
April, when they are readily seen in the 
western sky for at least a couple of 
hours after sunset. During the first 
week of the month, we'll see a rather 
dim Mars (magnitude 1.4) and a 

brilliant Jupiter (magnitude -2) 
crowding close together in the fading 
evening twilight, with Saturn 
(magnitude 0.3) sitting just above 
them. (On the evening of April 6, the 
crescent Moon joins this planetary trio, 
sitting below and just to the left of 

During the second week of April, 
the configuration of the three planets 
changes noticeably from night to 
night. On the evening ot April 1 1 they 
form a beautiful triangle, and on the 
evening of April 14 they are the closest 
they'O be to one another for quite a 
while, fitting into an imaginary circle 
of just under 5° in diameter. Not until 
May 2002 will we easily be able to see 
three planets so close together again. 
After Mars passes Saturn on April 16, 
it cjuickly leaves both Jupiter and 
Saturn behind to be swallowed up by 
the bright evening twilight. 

The Moon is at new phase on April 4 
at 2: 12 l'..M. It reaches first quarter on 
April 1 1 at 9:30 A.M. Full Moon is on 
April IS at 1:41 KM., and last quarter is 
on April 26 at 3:30 P.M. 

Daylight saving time begins on 
April 2, the first Sunday of the 
month. Don't forget to set your 
clocks forward one hour before 
turning in for the night. Remember, 
the mnemonic is "Spring forward, fall 
back." (A note of caution: Hawaii, 
Arizona, most of Indiana, Puerto 
Rico, and the Virgin Islands remain 
on standard time.) 

Time is not officially counted 
between 2:00 A.M. and 3:00 A.M. on 
April 2. Unfortunately, you'll lose an 
hour of sleep (it's "hour" loss!). 

Unless otheni'isc noted, all times are given 
in Eastern Daylight Time. 




This Os Real As It Gets Sunday, April 16 i-IUPin' 






By the 1890s, with the eastern 
forests of the United States 
ravaged by extensive logging, 
the tree-dwelling gray squir- 
rel was in trouble. Hoping to find new 
homes for the animals, well-meaning 
souls began exporting them to England, 
where they were welcomed as novelties 
and pets. Since then, gray squirrels have 
gone forth and multiplied. 

Unfortunately, their advance has 
caused the decline of Britain's native 
red squirrels, all but ehminating them 
in the south of England. Biologists long 
assumed that the grays (Sciurus caroliiien- 
sis) simply outcompeted the reds (S. 
vulgaris) for food and nesting sites. But 
recent findings by veterinarian Tony 
Sainsbury, of the Zoological Society of 
London, and several colleagues suggest 
that the takeover has been abetted by a 
powerful ally: a pathogen known as a 
parapoxvirus. Sainsbury points out that 
reports of dead red squirrels with skin 
lesions characteristic of a viral intection 
date back to the early 1930s and that 
the pathogen itself was identified in the 
late 1970s. Yet, until recently, no one 
cormected the mammal's decline with 
an infection. 

Now, along with Peter Nettleton 
and Janice Gilray, ot the Moredun Re- 
search Institute in Edinburgh, Scodand, 
and John GurneU, of the University of 
London, Sainsbury has tested blood 
taken from red squirrel carcasses all over 
the United Kingdom and found that 
very few of the animals had para- 
poxvirus antibodies. The researchers 
hypothesize that the red squirrels died 
because they could not develop resis- 
tance to the virus. (Antibodies indicate 
past exposure to a pathogen or toxin as 
well as the ability to develop immunity 
to it.) By contrast, a high proportion of 
the gray squirrels tested did have anti- 
bodies to the virus, indicating that they 
had been exposed to it and survived. 

These scientists do not yet know 
whether the grays carried the parapox 
infection with them to Britain or 
\vhether they merely serve as a "reser- 

voir" for a local pathogen, enabHng it 
to persist in greater concentrations than 
it otherwise could. In either case, the 
plight of the red squirrel highlights 
what parasitologist Peter Daszak, of the 
University of Georgia, calls "the role of 
disease as a hidden mediator of ecolog- 
ical change" — a subject that is drawing 
particular attention now with the 


because, says Daszak, "wildhfe disease 
has always taken second place to veteri- 
nary work on domestic animals." Until 
recently, he adds, even field ecologists 
paid little attention to dead animals as 
they went about their studies of plant 
and animal interactions. With Httle data 
to go on, they could only debate 
whether parasites and pathogens have a 

/ -^^r-' 





By Yvonne Baskin 

Emerging pathogens pose a threat to wildHfe. 

emergence of new wildHfe infections, 
including deadly fungal diseases in frogs 
on three continents, canine distemper 
in African wild dogs and Hons, and a 
strain of West Nile encephahtis recently 
identified as a killer of both birds and 
humans in the New York City area. 

The idea that such diseases pose a 
significant threat to global biodiversity 
has been slow to dawn on biologists 

significant impact on wildlife popula- 
tions or whether they simply kill the 
weak and unfit. Although computer 
models and lab studies have demon- 
strated that disease can regulate wild 
animal populations, it was not until 
1998 that some field experiments with 
game birds confirmed these findings. 

Most red grouse populations on the 
moors of northern England go through 

boom-aiKi-bust cycles every tour to 
eight years, ami the popLilation craslics 
were known to coincide with liii^lier 
rates of infection of the birds by 7n'- 
(/i()j(rt)H(jy/i« tenuis, a parasitic worm. To 
prove cause and etTect, however, re- 
searchers Peter Hudson, of the Univer- 
sity of Stirling, and Dave Newborn, of 
tlie C'l.une Conservancy Trust in North 

Yorkshire, teamed up with Andy Dob- 
son, of Princeton University. Working 
with gamekeepers, they caught and 
treated thousands of grouse with an 
oral worm medication. The result: an 
end to population crashes. 

Dobson fmds the grouse results 
gratifying but not surprising. After all, 
more than hall" the species on Earth are 
parasites, and most organisms are host 

to .1 number ot them. Pathogens — and 
the diseases they cause — should there- 
fore play an important role in maintain- 
ing genetic diversity in a population, 
since some individuals prove better able 
to resist than others. Pathogens may 
even influence the balance of species in 
a community. "If you believe predators 
can be keystone species and lead to in- 
creases in biodiversity and affect the 
way ecosystems function, then it's ap- 
pallingly naive to think that pathogens 
can't do the same thing," Dobson says. 

The power of pathogens is never so 
apparent as when they first encounter a 
vulnerable new host, and thanks to hu- 
mans, that is happening more and more 
often, says Peter Daszak. Diseases can 
emerge when people transport wildlife 
to new areas, move themselves and 
their domestic animals into wildlife 
habitat, or otherwise inadvertently 
shuffle pathogens around (a phenome- 
non Daszak and his colleagues call 
"pathogen pollution"). 

The "spillover" of pathogens from 
domestic livestock and pets to wildlife 
probably dates back to early human 
migrations around the globe. Indeed, 
paleomammalogist Ross MacPhee, of 
the American Museum of Natural 
History's Department of Manmialogy, 
beUeves that pathogens brought by Ice 
Age hunters entering the New 
World — and not stone-tipped spears or 
climate change — wiped out the mam- 
moths and other Pleistocene mega- 
fauna. Modern history provides less 
speculative examples. In the late nine- 
teenth century, cattle exported from 
either Italy or India to colonial Africa 
set oft" an epidemic — or, rather, an epi- 
zootic — of rinderpest, a disease that 
swept the continent in only a few 
years, killing huge numbers of wilde- 
beest, bufi"alo, and other wild grazers, 
as well as cattle. By the mid-1960s, 
widespread cattle vaccination had 
brought rinderpest under control, but 
to this day, pockets of unvaccinated 
catde in Somalia and elsewhere still act 
as reservoirs for the pathogen and are 

responsible for periodic outbreaks of 
this devastating disease. 

Rinderpest is caused by a morbil- 
livirus; other viruses in this group 
cause distemper and measles. Morbil- 
liviruses are notorious for their ability 
to exploit new species. The burgeon- 
ing population of domestic dogs 
around Tanzania's Serengeti National 
Park is blamed for outbreaks of canine 
distemper virus, which apparently 
wiped out the last of the park's dwin- 
dling number of wild dogs in 1991 and 
killed more than a third of its Uons in 
1994. Die-ofFs of seals in both Siberia 
and Antarctica have been hnked to 
contact with distemper-infected sled 
dogs. And measles contracted from un- 
vaccinated humans now threatens 
mountain gorillas in the forests of cen- 
tral Africa. 

In some quarters, the recognition 
that wild animals are threatened by 
emergent diseases has raised fears that 
wildhfe infections will "spill back" to 
domestic stock and humans. But as 
Princeton's Andy Dobson points out, 
such pubhc anxiet)' is often unwar- 
ranted, because populations of wild an- 
imals are often too small and scattered 
to sustain a pathogen. Rinderpest, for 
example, disappeared naturally from 
wdldlife when domestic catde were vac- 
cinated. StiU, badgers in Great Britain 
have been killed because some beUe\'e 
them to be responsible for the rising in- 
cidence of tuberculosis in catde. And 
bison wandering out of Yellowstone 
National Park have been shot because 
they may carry brucellosis, a disease of 
catde. In both cases, there is Utde e\d- 
dence to support such measures. 

Human modification of the envi- 
ronment also encourages the emer- 
gence of infectious diseases in wild an- 
imals. With U.S. wedands shrinking, 
migraton,' birds are crow-ding into re- 
maining sites, causing an upsurge in 
a\dan cholera and botuhsm. Tiger sala- 
manders in Arizona, now confined 
(because of wetland drainage) to man- 
made watering holes for cattle, and 




common frogs packed into garden 
ponds in the United Kingdom have 
been hit hard by outbreaks of emerg- 
ing iridovirus diseases. 

Even such seemingly benign activi- 
ties as the feeding of backyard birds can 
bring about unhealthy crowding and 
comminghng of species. In the United 
States, these conditions have been 
blamed for the spread of an eye disease, 

cephalopathy, better known as mad cow 
disease. And the common zoo practice 
of housing African and Asian elephants 
together has apparently allowed a her- 
pesvirus carried by African elephants to 
infect and kill at least eight juvenile 
Asian elephants in the United States. In 
African elephants, the infection seems 
to cause only skin or genital warts. 
When animals are released from 

port or displacement of wild animals. 
In the process, the animals are exposed 
to new diseases, and the pathogens they 
already carry are introduced into new 
environments. Whirling disease — a 
bone-deforming parasitic infection 
devastating prized wild-trout fisheries 
in Colorado, Montana, and other west- 
ern states — has been hnked to hatchery 
fish imported from Europe in the 

Contact between species that do not normally share an environment can foster disease. In zoos, Asian elephants (such as the one 
at right) have succumbed to a herpesvirus that is only a minor problem for the African species. 

mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, through- 
out eastern house finch populations. 

Holding wild animals in captivity, 
where they are hkely to eat unusual 
foods and share space with other spe- 
cies they would never encounter natu- 
rally, can also foster disease. In Europe, 
for instance, at least fifty-eight zoo ani- 
mals (of seventeen different species), in- 
cluding cheetahs, kudu, and an Arabian 
oryx, died after eating feed contami- 
nated with the infectious protein 
known to cause bovine spongiform en- 

captivity, either officially in reintroduc- 
tion programs or unofficially (and often 
illegally) as "repatriated" pets, they may 
carry diseases into previously unex- 
posed wild populations. An upper res- 
piratory tract infection that was first 
identified in captive tortoises showed 
up in desert tortoises in the Mojave in 
1989. The result was the first disease- 
induced hsting of a species under the 
Endangered Species Act. 

Hunting, agriculture, aquaculture, 
and the pet trade all involve the trans- 

1950s. In turn, North American cray- 
fish introduced into Europe carried 
with them a fungal plague that now 
threatens related native species. 

International trade in produce, raw 
logs, plants, soil, and livestock, as well 
as the handhng of ballast water and 
landfill, are spreading novel pathogens 
to remote parts of the globe. River 
runoff carrying mud and silt that was 
washed away by flooding or eroded 
during land-clearing activities has al- 
lowed the terrestrial soil fungus As- 

I'ci\;illus >yiloii'ii to iiitci.t ,i new Ljroup ot 
hosts, the C ' sc.i t.ins, leaving 
thciii witli n.isty lesions and weakened 
inmiLine systems. 

In many cases of emerging disease, 
human involvement is suspected but 
dirticult to prove, A recent example, re- 
ported by Dasi-ak and others in ]'>')8, is 
the tiingal dise.ise chytridiomycosis, 
which appears to be responsible tor 
many mass trog die-otis m Australia and 
the Americas and even for local extinc- 
tions ot as many as eight amphibian 
species in the high-elevation tropical 
rainforests of Costa Rica and Australia. 
"This is a very rare example of a wild- 
lite disease wiping out multiple species 
over large areas, in pristine habitats, and 
on a global scale," Daszak says. 

The culprit is a chytrid, a type of 
tungus tound in streams and moist soil 
worldwide but never before known to 
infect vertebrates. Because of its global 
distribution, Daszak suspects that this 
fongus may have long been endemic in 
lowland frogs, infecting them in the 
cool of spring or fall and then dying 
back in the heat of summer. He hy- 
pothesizes that in the past few decades, 
as people have begun moving higher 
into the forests, this chytrid has some- 
how "been introduced into montane 
regions where it's cool enough all year 
round to really let it cause havoc in spe- 
cies that never have been exposed." 

Prehminary findings by Daszak and 
others show that the chytrid fungus 
may be hiding out in an unusual place: 
tadpoles. This fungus feeds on the pro- 
tein keratin (the main constituent of 
hair, nails, bonis, and snake and frog 
skin), which abounds in dead matter in 
the soil. The mouthparts of tadpoles 
also consist of keratin, enabling the 
chytrid to subsist in larval frogs. 

The fungus seems to do no harm 
until the tadpoles start to metamor- 
phose and develop the keratin-rich skin 
of the adult stage. At this point, it ap- 
parently spreads trom the mouthparts 
to the rest of the body, killing the 
young frogs. "It seems the disease can 

mine mto .111 ,ire,i, wipe out .ill the 
adults, ,uul then live in the environ- 
ment t)r m the larvae, which survive in 
the stream for the rest of the year," 
Daszak says. "More adult frogs arrive 
the next year, and the chytrid moves 
onto them and kills them." 

The etll'cts of such a virulent, un- pathogen will undoubtedly ripple 
throughout the ecosystem. When 
rinderpest decimated grazing animals 
on the AtVican savannas, vast stretches 
reverted to bush and thicket, providing 
habitat tbr the tsetse fly, which carries 
sleeping sickness. Daszak suggests that 
loss of tadpoles from tropical mountain 
streams could cause an overgrowth of 
the algae they teed on, a decline in 
water quality, and an unpredictable dis- 
ruption of the food web. 

It pathogen-driven extinctions of 
mountain frogs are confirmed, they 
would represent a first for wild popu- 
lations. But disease is already known 
to have delivered the coup de grace to 
one species whose few remaining in- 
dividuals had been placed in a cap- 
tive-breeding program: two years ago, 
Daszak and colleagues confirmed "the 
first definitive example of extinction 
by infection" when they reported that 
a protozoan parasite had killed the last 
Polynesian tree snails (Partida tiirgida), 
a species that was already gone firom 
the wild. 

Andy Dobson is quick to point out 
that the threat posed by emerging 
pathogens makes up only half the 
story: "Just as surely as we're causing 
lots of extinctions in free-living organ- 
isms," he warns, "we're creating lots of 
extinctions in parasitic ones." The dis- 
appearance of these organisms may go 
largely unlamented, indeed unnoticed, 
but given the ecological power of 
pathogens and parasites, their passing 
will not be without etfect. 

A science writer and frequent contributor to 
Natural History, Yroiiue Baskiti is at 
u'ork on a hook about invasive plants, ani- 
mals, atid pathogens. 

This Morgan 

Silver Dollar 

Once Cost $350. 

The Legendary 

1904-0 Morgan Silver Dollar, 

Brilliant Uncirculated 

In 1962, the 1904-O Morgan sU\er 
dollar was one of the three costliest 
rarities in America's favorite series, 
Usting for $350 in Uncirculated 
quality. Only a few thousand were 
known to exist in any condition. It was 
the dream of coin connoisseurs to own 
a rare 1904-O Morgan BU. Then the 
last U.S. Treasury silver dollar releases 
stunned the collecting world: hundreds 
of bags emerged from go\ emment 
vaults containing pristine 1904-O 
Morgans. Today no other BU in the 
entire Morgan silver dollar series costs 
so little compared to its peak price. 
And the legend of the 1904-O Morgan 
remains. The beautiful luster of our 
Brilliant Uncirculated specimens 
hasn't changed a bit since their issue 
over 90 years ago — only their 
availability and price has changed o\er 
the past 35 years. This same quality 
sells elsewhere for $41.75. but our 
special introductory price is just 
$35. Limit 2. Order #18579. Act 
now — limited time offer, .-^dd 
just S2 postage. 30-Day No-Risk 
Home Examination: NIoney-Back 
Guarantee. To order by credit card, 
call the toll-free number below. Or 
send a check or money order to: 
International Coins & Currency 
62 Ridge Street. Dept. 3992 
Mon"tpelier, VT 05602 


For other offers nsit 

w\^"\ I 3992 

I r '>'•; 

Racing To 
Tne Moon. 

Instinct and moonlight guide them to the 
ocean. For newborn sea turtles, it is a run 
for survival. They must quickly 
move past predators to the safety 
of deep water. That's why people working 
in partnership on Thevenard Island conceal 
the light from their oil and gas operations. 
So the turtles won't be drawn off-course. 
Which helps protect a threatened species by 
making certain the only Ught visible is the 
one that leads home. 


People Do. 








k *«t^C»J^^^rW»*i 





30 BIOMECHANICS natural history 4/00 

Walking on Water 

Also rowing, galloping, and sailing — these spiders do it all. 

Story by Carl Zimmer ~ Illustrations by Sally J. Bensusen 

A handful of animals can perform 
the biomechanical miracle of 
walking on water. The insects 
known as water striders flit about on 
the surface of streams and ponds, and 

the Jesus lizard) of Central America can 
rear up on its two hind legs and dash 
across short stretches of water. An even 
more accompHshed water walker is the 
fishing spider (Dolomedes triton). Basihsk 

gle gait on water, while fishing spiders 
can use three different kinds of loco- 
motion, switching from one to another 
whenever they're so inclined. For 
them, the surface of the water is like a 

the basilisk lizard (sometimes known as hzards and water striders use only a sin- dance floor. 


Dimples form where a 

fishing spider's legs touch 

the water's surface. To row across 

the water (left to right), a spider uses 

its middle pairs of legs, sweeping first 

the third pair from front to back, then 

the second pair. The dimples act like 

oars, pushing the spider forward. 

Fishing spiders live tliroughout the 
United States, although they're particu- 
larly abundant in the South. They lurk 
along the edges ot ponds and streams, 
and when insects drop to the water, 
these spiders rush across the surface to 
attack. They can also dip their legs un- 
derwater and grab swininving tadpoles 
and small fish. 

The first order of business for ani- 
iii.ils with this lifestyle is to stay on top 
of the water. Fishing spiders do so by 
taking advantage of surface tension. 
Water molecules are more attracted to 
one another than they are to molecules 
in the air. This molecular pull makes 
the surface ot water act like a sheet ot 
rubber. When a spider sets a leg on the 
water, a dimplelike depression tonus 
around it, and the water pushes back up 
to regain a smooth surface. 

Surface tension is not a very power- 
fiil force — try resting a stone on thc 
water, and it will sink like, well, a 
stone — but the spiders are real hght- 
weights, usually weighing less than a 
gram. In addition, the spiders" legs have 
a waxy coating that repels water. Their 
legs are also long, a helpRil attribute. 
Because surface tension pushes on the 
edges of objects sitting on water, long 
legs — with their long edges — mean 
more surface tension. (The same prin- 
ciple explains why a needle will float 
on water if you set it down carefully.) 

Although surface tension can keep 
fishing spiders afloat, it makes it hard 
for them to go anywhere. On land they 
can push their legs against sohd ground, 
generating an opposing force that car- 
ries them forward. Their waxy legs 
can't get a purchase on the surface ot 

the pond, however; the water is, in ef- 
fect, too slippery to permit the spiders 
to move. 

But move thev do, and for the past 
few years Robert Suter, a biologist at 
Vassar College, has been studying just 
how they do it. What he has found is 
that the spiders row across the water's 
surface by using the dimples their legs 
make in it. When a fishing spider 
moves one of its legs from front to 
back, it draws that dimple back with it. 
As the dimple moves, it acts Hke an oar, 
pushing against the surrounding water 
and creating a force that propels the 
spider forward. 

A fishing spider rows with the mid- 
dle two of its tour pairs of legs. First it 
swings back its third pair, then the sec- 
ond pair, and when both pairs are ex- 
tended as far back as they can go, the 
spider raises them from the water and 
brings them forward again. Meanwhile, 
it keeps its front and rear pairs of legs 
motionless, using their surface tension 
to keep itself atloat while it prepares for 
the next stroke. (Although no one has 
carefully studied the biomechanics of 
water striders, Suter says that they, too, 
move by rowing. But because they have 
just three pairs of legs, only their mid- 
dle pair can use dimples as oars.) 

There's a limit to how tast fishing 
spiders can travel this way, however. To 
speed up, a spider can either make 
deeper dimples (giving itself bigger 
oars) or push them back faster. Yet both 
these strategies produce greater pres- 
sure from the surrounding water, and 
beyond a certain point, that pressure 
overcomes surface tension and the 
dimples collapse. 

Thus if they need to go faster than 
about a foot per second, spiders have 
to shift to a second gait, which Suter 
calls a gallop. They rear up, hold their 
legs up almost vertically, and then slice 
them down into the water, essentially 
cutting through the surface. A gallop- 
ing spider cannot rely on surface ten- 
sion to keep afloat. Instead, when the 
spider pushes its legs down and back, 
the water responds with an opposing 
force, pushing up and forward. The 
upward force keeps the spider from 
being submerged, and the forward 
force propels it. (Basilisk Hzards use a 
similar technique as they run on 
water.) Somewhat similar to a gallop- 
ing horse, the spider, having once 
pushed off the water with its legs, is 
completely airborne. 

Galloping, which can propel tishing 
spiders at three feet per second, is hard 
work. Spiders probably use it only 
when they need to reach top speeds to 
chase fast prey or to avoid becoming 
prey themselves. At less urgent times, 
the spiders may rely on a third and 
more efficient form ot locomotion; 
saOing. When a breeze blows, fishing 
spiders sometimes wave their two front 
legs into the wind (smaller spiders raise 
their entire bodies) and let the breeze 
push them across the water like sail- 
boats. Because the water is so exquis- 
itely sHppery under the spider, even a 
weak push can carry the creature across 
a pond. 

Carl Ziniiner's book Parasite Rex is forth- 
coming front Siinoti and Schuster Zimmer 
also wrote "Tlic Hidden Unity of Hearts" 
Jor tliis month's Natural History. 

To gallop, a spider (shown 
here in a lateral view) raises 
its legs almost vertically and 
then slices them down into 
the water. The water responds 
with an opposing force that 
propels the spider forward 
and keeps it from sinking. 







THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 4/oo 

The First Day of the 
Rest of Our Life 

Or, What I Did on January 1, 2000 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

The comparison of the human body 
with the universe — the microcosm 
with the macrocosm — has provided a 
standard device for exphcating both 
the factuality and the meaning of na- 
ture throughout most of Western his- 
tory. When Leonardo da Vinci, for ex- 
ample, likened our bodily heat, breath, 
blood, and bones to the lavas of vol- 
canic eruptions, the effusions of inte- 
rior air during earthquakes, the emer- 
gence of streams from underground 
springs, and the rocks that build the 
Earth's framework — and then inter- 
preted both sequences as particular ex- 
pressions of the four Greek elements of 
fire, air, water, and earth — he did not 
view his argument as an excursion into 
poetry or metaphorical suggestion but 
as his best understanding of nature's ac- 
tual construction. 

We now take a more cynical, or at 
least a more bemused, view of such 
analogistic reveries, for we recognize 
that the cosmos, in all its grandness, 
does not exist for us or as a mirror of 
our centraUty in the scheme of univer- 
sal things. We would now freely admit 
that most attempts to understand such 
geological or astronomical scales of size 
and time in terms of comfortable regu- 
larities noted in our short life spans or 
puny dimensions can only represent, in 
the most flattering interpretation, an 
honorable "best try" within our own 
mental and perceptual limits or, at 
worst, yet another manifestation of the 
ancient sin of pride. 

As a striking example, however un- 
recognized by most people who could 

scarcely avoid both walking the walk 
and talking the talk, the recent fuss 
over our millennial transition cannot 
be entirely ascribed to modern com- 
mercial hype, because the taproot of 
concern draws upon one of the oldest 
surviving arguments about deep and 
meaningful coincidence between the 
human microcosm and the surround- 
ing macrocosm of universal time and 
space — in this case, an explicit com- 
parison of human secular calendars to 
the fuU sweep of the creation and sub- 
sequent histoiy of Earth and life. 

By this reckoning, January 1, 2000, 
should have marked the termination of 

I feel not the slightest 
discomfort — on the 
contrary, nothing but 
joy — ^in singing the text 
of Haydn's Creation. Its 
factual inaccuracies are 
quite irrelevant. 

the old order and the inception of 
something new and at least potentially 
glorious. This momentous turning of 
calendrical dials should therefore have 
inspired our attention for reasons al- 
most immeasurably deeper than the 
simple visual attraction of changing all 
four markers firom 1999 to 2000 — the 
"odometer rationale," if you wUl. (Of 
course, the vast majority of people in 
our secular and technological age have 
forgotten this old, and factually dis- 
carded, Christian argument for the sig- 

Creation of the Animals, Flemish school, 11 

nificance of millennial turnings. But 
vestiges of these historical claims still 
affect both our calendars and our dis- 
course. Moreover, and with potentially 
tragic results, these vestiges persist as 

literal portents tor a few "true belie\- 
ers," leading in tlie most extreme case 
to the suicide of thirtv'-nine members 
of tile Heavens Clate cult in 1997.) 

The traditional linkage of Ininian 
calendrical microcosms to universal 
historical macrocosms followed an ar- 
gument in five stages: 

1. The original millennium, as ex- 
pressed in the famous biblical proph- 

recorded history. How, then, 
did the primary meaning of "millen- 
nium" change from the duration of a 
future epoch to the ticking of cur- 
rent calendars? 

2. The earliest Christians expected 
an imminent inception of the millen- 
nium, as Jesus had apparently stated in 
foreseeing his quick return after bod- 
ily death: "Verily I say unto you, 

ecy of Revelation, chapter 20, re- 
ferred to i future 1,000-year period 
of bliss following the return of Jesus 
and the binding of Satan, not to a 
secular passage of 1,000 years in 

There be some standing here, w"hich 
shall not taste of death, till they see 
the Son of man coining in his king- 
dom" (Matt. 16:28). The failure of 
this expectation unleashed an ex- 

tended discussion among early Chris- 
tians on the meaning of the millen- 
nium and the true timing of the Sec- 
ond Coming of C^hrist. 

3. Opinions varied widely, but the 
most popular claim rested upon several 
biblical passages suggesting an equation 
of God's days with a thousand human 
years, as in the admonition of 2 Peter 
3:8, "But, beloved, be not ignorant of 
this one thing, that one day is with the 
Lord as a thousand years, and a thou- 
sand years as one day." 

4. The link between human calen- 
dars and the inception of the true mil- 
lennium then rested upon an analogis- 
tic argument that we, by modern 
standards, would tend to regard as 
fuzz^', indefinite, and metaphorical but 
that seemed quite satisfactory' to many 
ot our forebears (who used their 
equally powerful brains in different 
conceptual contexts): If God created 
the Earth in six days and rested on a 
seventh, and if each of God's days 
equals 1 ,000 human years, then Earth's 
full history must mirror God's com- 
plete span of creation by enduring for 
6,000 years, while God's seventh day of 
rest must correspond to the forthcom- 
ing, blissful millennium of 1 ,000 addi- 
tional years. If, therefore, we can count 
Earth's history in millennia (periods of 
1,000 years representing God's days), 
we will know, with precision, the end 
of the current order and the time of 
inception tor the true iniUennium, tor 
this transition wiU occur exacdy 6,000 
years after Earth's beginning. 

5. This argument inspired a burst of 
scholarship (culminating in the seven- 
teenth century) that tried to use the 
Bible and other ancient records to 
construct a true chronology for uni- 
versal history. In the most popular 
scheme, Christ's birth follows Earth's 
creation by exactly 4,000 years, and 
the current order may therefore persist 
for an addirional 2,000 years. Finally, if 
the birth of Jesus occurred at the 
B.C.— A.D. transition of our calendar, 
then the end ot this secular millennium 


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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 4/oo 


should terminate our current order 
and initiate the blessed millennium (in 
its original meaning) of Christ's Sec- 
ond Coming. Clearly, then, we should 
care about microcosmal human calen- 
dars because they mark the epochs of 
macrocosmal universal history and pre- 
pare us for the fearfiil apocalypse fol- 
lowed by a better world to come. 

I have presented this influential ar- 
gument of Christian history as a pro- 
logue to the following segue inserted 
to remind readers about the most bor- 
ing of all topics for essayists, as we all 
remember so well from our primary- 
school years: the inevitable "what I 
did on my . . ." that was assigned upon 

inherent limitations of this general topic. 
The purely factual resolution re- 
quires but a sentence: I sang in a per- 
formance of Joseph Haydn's great ora- 
torio The Creation, presented by the 
Boston Cecilia at Jordan Hall on New 
Year's Day. For my larger aim of tran- 
scending boredom from the most un- 
promising of aU general topics, let me 
try to explain (an effort, alas, that wall 
take a bit more space than the factual 
assertion stated just above) why the 
conjunction of this particular piece 
with the millennial day strikes me as so 
optimally appropriate in a general and 
symboUc sense; why the privilege of 
participation meant so much to me 

Creation of Adam and Eve, Flemish school, 17th century 

every return to school after an ex- 
tended absence (with "summer vaca- 
tion" and "Christmas break" as the 
most common particulars). I shall now 
dare to regale you with an essay in 
precisely this dreaded form: "What I 
Did on the Millennial Day of January 
1, 2000." I can only hope and pray 
that my prologue, combined with a 
forthcoming explication, may build 
an apparatus for overcoming the 

personally (an otherwise private mat- 
ter, but vouchsafed to essayists ever 
since Montaigne defined this genre 
more than four centuries ago as per- 
sonal commentary upon generahties); 
and why a topic so off the left-field 
wall (to combine two common 
metaphors for the bizarre) — namely, a 
musical composition on a text drawn 
from the same creation narrative. Gen- 
esis 1, now urged by our antiscientific 

opponents as .in alternative to tlic 
teaching of e\olution m America's 
public schools — might find a truly fit- 
ting place in a magazine (.ievoted to 
natural history. 

Now, if I may try your patience for 
just one more round of annoyingly 
necessary (anti prefitory) footnotes, 
let me dismiss three little niggling 

How did the priniary 
meaning of 
"niiUemiiuni" change 
from the duration of a 
flitiire epoch to the 
ticking of current 

issues about dates before we come to 
Haydn's magisterial creation of hght in 
C major: 

1. With apologies for shining the 
fictual torch of modern science on the 
best-laid intellectual schemes ot ances- 
tral mice and men. Earth is really about 
4.7 biUion years old, and life's known 
fossil record extends back about 3.6 
billion years, so days and millennia 
scarcely qualify' as terms for a serious 
discussion of factual matters related to 
life's origin and history. 

2. Even within the system that ex- 
alted millennial transitions as God's 
days and the end of the sLxth transition 
as the termination of our current uni- 
verse, the year 2000 really doesn't 
qualify for much consideration. You 
see, poor Dionysius Exiguus (Dennis 
the Short), the sixth-century monk 
who devised the B.C.-A.D. calendrical 
system, made a Utde error in setting 
Christ's birth. We have no direct testi- 
mony about the historical Jesus, and 
no eyewdtness account can set his time 
of birth. But we do know that Herod 
died in 4 B.C. (kings tended to leave 
better written e\adence ot their Hves 
than poor kids born in stables). Now, if 

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36 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 4/oo 

Herod and Jesus overlapped — and 
some of the most rousing biblical sto- 
ries (the Slaughter of the Innocents; 
the return of the Magi to their own 
country, rather than their making a de- 
tour to Jerusalem and presenting their 
promised report to Herod) must be 
discounted if they did not — then Jesus, 
despite the oxymoronic nature of the 
claim, must have been born in 4 B.C. 
or earlier. Thus, by the millennial 
chronology, the current order should 
actually have ended a few years ago — 
and it didn't. 

3. Even if we had never heard about 
this inconvenient issue of Jesus' birth or 
just wish to maintain a pohte fiction 
about his appearance right at the 
B.C.— A. D. junction, we have stiU erred in 
concentrating our millennial fears on 
the 1999-2000 transition. Again, we 
must recognize Dionysius Exiguus as 
the culprit, although we cannot cast 
much blame this time. No zero existed 
in Western mathematics when Diony- 
sius performed his calendrical duties, so 
he began A.D. time on January 1 of the 
year one — and our calendar never ex- 
perienced a year zero. Now, if you be- 
lieve that the blessed millennium of 
Jesus' Second Coming will begin ex- 
actly 2,000 years after the inception of 
A.D. time, then you still have another 
year to wait, for the completion of 
2,000 years since Jesus' birth occurs at 
the 2000-2001 transition, not on the 
fearful day that has recendy passed. 

As most folks know by now, this 
same issue underhes the great, unre- 
solvable, and basically silly debate 
about whether the new millennium 
starts at the beginning of 2000 or of 
2001. I won't rehearse this particularly 
well beaten and very dead horse, al- 
though you may all consult my now 
remaindered book Questioning the Mil- 
lennium if the subject still holds any in- 
terest for you. I will only observe, and 
then promise never to raise the subject 
again, that this debate expresses noth- 
ing new but has erupted at the end of 
every century (admittedly with greater 

intensity this time because our turning 
encompassed a millennium as well and 
also happened to unfold in an age of 
media overkill about everything). I 
merely append a figure (see below) of a 
French pamphlet published in 1699 
and entitled "Dissertation on the Be- 
ginning of the Next Century and the 
Solution to the Problem, To know 
which one of the two years 1700 or 


D U 



Sgavoir laquelle des deux annees lyoo 
ou 1701 eft la premiere da Siecle. 

;: A P A R. I S , 

;■ Be rimprimerie de Jean Moreau, 
t, rue Galande , pr^s le coin de la rue 

m' S. Julien le Pauvre. . 





A French pamphlet on the turn-of-the- 
century problem 

1701 is the first of the Century." As 
our Gallic cousins like to say, "Plus ga 
change, plus c'est la mime chose" ("The 
more things change, the more they stay 
the same"). 

Haydn's text faithfully follows the 
six-day sequence of creation in Genesis 
1 — the basis (by the traditional argu- 
ment outlined above) for regarding the 
day of our singing as the end of history 
and the inception of a new order. 
(Haydn wrote The Creation in German 
but based it on a translated English 
text, taken mostly from Genesis and 
from some paraphrases of Milton's Par- 
adise Lost. Haydn published the text in 
both English and German, apparently 

intending his piece for perforin.iiicc in 
either language.) 

One can easily fornuilate the obvi- 
ous and legitimate rationales: "Such 
great music, but . . ." and "You can't 
blame Haydn in 1798 for not antici- 
pating what Darwin would publish in 
I.S5')." Hut shouldn't a paleontologist 
and evolutionary biologist, sitting on- 
stage in the chorus, become at least a 
bit uncomfortable when the angel 
Kaphael, recounting the origin of land 
animals on the sixth day, explicitly pro- 
claims their sudden creation "in per- 
fect forms, and flilly grown"? 

1 don't deny that participation in 
some great music can raise difficult is- 
sues and cause considerable emotional 
distress, particularly the strongly anti- 
Semitic choral passages (representing 
the Jewish crowci taunting Jesus or de- 
manding his death) in J. S. Bach's sub- 
Ume St. Matthew and St. John Passions, 
perhaps the greatest choral works ever 
written (the power and quality of the 
music only enhances the discomfort) . I 

''But, beloved, be not 
ignorant of this one 
thing, that one day is 
with the Lord as a 
thousand years, and a 
thousand years is as one 
day."— 2 Peter 3:8 

find the "blood guilt" passage from the 
St. Matthew Passion especially disturb- 
ing because I know that these very 
words served for centuries as a primary 
argument — often with explicitly 
deadly consequences for my people — 
for labeling Jews as the killers of 
Christ. For my own, personal resolu- 
tion, I decided long ago that whenever 
we sang this work, I would at least 
mention, during our tirst rehearsal, the 
historical context of this text, based on 
the statement of the Jewish crowd after 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 4/oo 

Pilate finds no guilt in Jesus and liter- 
ally washes his hands of the affair: 
"Sein Bliit koinine iiber nns imd iinsere 
Kinder" ("Let his blood then be upon 
us and upon our children"). 

I do, by the way, accept the differ- 
ent historical context of Bach's time. I 
feel no enmity toward this great man, 
who may never have known a Jew and 
who probably never considered the 
issue as he simply set the Hteral text of 
Matthew. Nor would I ever consider 
changing the text for any modern per- 
formance, lest an understandable deed 
for a particular purpose establish a 
precedent and open a floodgate for 
wholesale revision of any great work to 
suit the whims of fashion. But I do 
think that the issue should never be 
avoided and should always be expHcitly 
discussed in preconcert lectures or pro- 
gram notes. 

But 1 feel not the sHghtest tinge of 
discomfort — and, quite to the con- 
trary, experience nothing but joy — in 
singing the text of Haydn's Creation. In 
explaining these different reactions, I 
must begin by saying that 1 don't use 
factual accuracy as a major criterion 
forjudging a musical Ubretto any more 
than I would look for aesthetic beauty 
(according to my personal sensibilities) 
or moral rectitude in assessing the va- 
lidity of a scientific conclusion. (Much 
of nature's factuahty strikes us as both 
messy and unpleasant but no less fasci- 
nating thereby.) I recoil fi'om the anti- 
Semitic Passion texts because they ex- 
press the worst aspects of our common 
nature and because these words have 
wreaked actual death and havoc. Simi- 
larly, I embrace Haydn's Creation text 
for its moral and aesthetic qualities, 
while regarding its factual inaccuracies 
as quite irrelevant and beside the point. 

After all, we read the Bible as a 
source of moral debate and instruction, 
not as a treatise in natural history. 
Moreover, even if Haydn had decided 
10 express the science of his day, he 
would not have written a libretto 
.'fviat evolution. As for creation in six 

days, Haydn, as a devout Catholic, 
surely never conceived the text as a set 
of statements about twenty-four-hour 
periods, for no UteraHst tradition ex- 
isted within the doctrines of his 
church, and such interpretations had 
never gained currency after Saint Au- 
gustine's denials more than a thousand 
years earlier. (Our currently active 
scourge of fimdamentalism, or bibHcal 
literalism, arose later and from different 
traditions.) The basic analogy of God's 
days to human millennia, while still 
ungenerous by the standards of geolog- 
ical time, surely illustrates a Catholic 
consensus for reading "days" of cre- 
ation as sequential intervals, not as 
equal and predetermined tickings of 
God's stopwatch. 

AH cultures generate creation 
myths, and such stories enter the 
drama of human hfe in a role far differ- 
ent from the part we assign to the fas- 

Haydn does not entirely 
neglect the subject (so 
prominent in Genesis 2) 
of the dangers of 
knowing too much. But 
he certainly reduces the 
point to a bare reminder. 

cination and utOity of factual discover- 
ies made by science. With this 
perspective, 1 can summarize my case 
for Haydn's text in a paragraph: The 
Book of Genesis presents two strik- 
ingly different creation myths, told in 
chapters 1 and 2. I find two aspects of 
the second myth morally troubling, 
whereas (with one exception) I rejoice 
in the meanings and impUcations of 
the first story. Interestingly, Haydn's 
text uses only the first story and ex- 
pHcitly deletes the one theme (human 
hegemony over the rest of God's cre- 
ation) that disturbs me (and has trou- 
bled so much of human history). I do 

not think that these textual decisions 
were accidental, and I therefore regard 
Haydn's Creation as an affirmation of all 
the themes that a wise and maximally 
useful creation myth should stress — 
joy, generosity, and optimism — ^while 
not forgetting the dark side and our re- 
sulting capacity to make a horrid mess 
out of such promise. 

The second creation myth of Gen- 
esis 2 — the text that Haydn did not 
set — emphasizes two themes that I 
find less than inspiring: God's demand 
(by fiat and not by explanation) that 
we must not seek certain kinds of 
knowledge, and an anatomical ratio- 
nale for the subjugation of women. 
We tend to forget the profound differ- 
ences between the two stories of Gen- 
esis, and we usually amalgamate parts 
of this second tale with our primary 
memory of the first story. In Genesis 
2, God creates Adam first and then 
constructs the Garden of Eden. To as- 
suage Adam's loneliness, he then cre- 
ates the animals and permits Adam to 
assign their names. But Adam is still 
lonely, so God creates Eve from his 
rib. (Genesis 1, Haydn's text, says 
nothing about forbidden fruits and de- 
scribes a simultaneous creation of man 
and woman: "So God created man in 
his own image . . . male and female 
created he them.") 

The theme of forbidden access to 
knowledge occurs only in Genesis 2: 
"And the Lord God commanded the 
man, saying. Of every tree of the gar- 
den thou niayest freely eat: But of the 
tree of the knowledge of good and 
evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the 
day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt 
surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). (I recog- 
nize, of course, that some exegetes 
favor a benign meaning for these pas- 
sages by reading them as statements 
about the need for moral restraint 
upon our darker capacities. But most 
people, throughout Western history, 
have regarded these words as a divine 
order that we not question certain 
(Please turn to page 82) 

}'\o'// iiJt:-^ i;.'-i 







I S lv^\ EL* Celebrate the dawn of the millennium in the Holy Land 

srael's Biblical landscape sets the scene 

for all kinds of adventures, from tfie epic and 
educational to the spiritual, and the serene. With 
over 4.000 years of history to explore. Israel offers 
something new with each visit. 

Jerusalem is a must on any Israel itinerary, especially 
in this momentous year. Within the ancient walls 
of the Old City lie some of the world's major religious 
shrines. Outside the walls, the Mount of Olives, 
the Garden of Cethsemane and the Church of All 
Nations punctuate an endlessly fascinating landscape 
of archeological sites. A variety of early Christian 
artifacts are displayed at the Tower of David Museum 
of the History of Jerusalem, part of an enormous 
complex of buildings known as the Citadel, sections 
of which are more than 3,000 years old. Newly 
accessible to the public, the ancient Ramparts Walk 
offers the best view of the entire city. The holiest 
of all Jewish sites, the Western Wall is a remnant 
of the Second Temple retaining wall where Jews 
have come to for centuries to pray, mourn and 
leave their written pleas and prayers in its crevices. 
The Temple Mount marks the site of Solomon's 
Temple and Herod's Temple, where Jesus prayed 
and v/here Mohammed is believed to have ascended 
'^ ii63ven. The Mount is topped by the massive 
Lcme of the Rock and the Al-Agsa Mosque, 
regarded as Islam's third-holiest shrine. Of special 

significance to Christians, the Via Dolorosa follows 
the Nine Stations of the Cross from St. Stephen's 
Gate through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 
A seemingly endless source of archeological finds, 
the Cardo was Jerusalem's main thoroughfare 
in the sixth century A recent excavation has 
unearthed remnants of Israelite walls and Byzantine 
structures. In a more modern vein, the Israeli Knesset's 
reception hall features tapestries by Marc Chagall 
and The Israel Museum's Billy Rose Sculpture Garden 
is dotted with works by Henry Moore and other 
internationally renowned artists. 

To the east of Jerusalem lies the otherworldly 
desert terrain surrounding 
the Dead Sea. the saltiest 
and most mineral-rich body 
of water in the wodd at 
the lowest spot on earth, 400 meters below sea 
level. Year-round, naturally filtered sunshine, high 
barometric pressure and a relaxed, pollen-free 
environment combine with its sulfur hot springs 
and famously therapeutic black mud to make this 
region the ultimate spa destination. Here, on a high 
plateau, Herod built Masada. destined to become a 
symbol of Jewish heroism in the revolt against the 
Roman conquerors. Recent excavation efforts have 
made Qumran — the Essene settlement in whose 
caves the Dead Sea Scrolls lay undiscovered for 2.000 

— - Cover: The holy city of Safed in Israel's Galilee 

region offers a beautiful portal to the past. Left and 
Center: Scenic Eilat is a natural playground. Above: 
A Christian Church in Capernaum, Cahlee. 

years — more accessible than ever before. The En 
Gedi Nature Reserve is home to the region's most 
splendid flora and fauna. Thejudean Desert, with 
it's dramatic, craggy cliffs, offers special opportunities 
for adventurous hikes, climbing, and rappelling. 

The Negev Desert is a multifarious natural wonder 
of stark mountain ranges, cratered canyons and 
massive sand dunes. Explorations by camel caravans, 
on horseback, or in desert Jeeps lead through ancient 
highways, waystations, monasteries and fortresses 
hewn out of rocky cliffs, and Bedouin encampments 
that have changed little in 4,000 years. 

At Israel's southernmost tip, on the shores of the 
Red Sea, lies the sun-drenched paradise of Eilat. On 
the site where the Queen of Sheba arrived on her 
historic visit to King Solomon, nature lovers now 
enjoy carefree days of escape and exploration in 

the mountains, on the sea, 
or underwater amidst 
some of the wodd's most 
beautiful coral reefs. 
Three miles north of Eilat, the International 
Birdwatching Center invites visitors to observe 
the migration of over four million migrating birds 
of prey. The breathtaking Timna Park is home to 
King Solomon's Mines, where geological wonders 
tell their own story of the earth's earliest history. 

From the southern seaside resort of Ashkelon to 
the lovely village of Nahariya in the far north, 
the country's Mediterranean coast offers miles 
of sandy beaches, inviting waters, limestone 
grottoes, archeological sites, and a sumptuous 


Come to the land where time began. 

Year looo 

Year 2000 

The eternal city of Jerusalem. 


Abraham. David. Jesus. 
Mohammed. The great events 
they inspired — events that 
have shaped civilizations 
through the centuries- 
happened in just one small 
country. Israel. Here is where 
our Vi/orld changed. Here is 
where our time began. 

Certainly no other place 
on earth belongs to the 
millennium as Israel does. 
And whatever your own 
history, no one belongs here 
more than you. 

Now is the time to plan your 
unforgettable millennium visit 
to Israel. We promise you'll 
have a wonderful time — 
and, quite possibly, the most 
meaningful trip of your life. 

Where else would you go? 



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A view from within Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock. 

variety of beachfront restaurants and cafes. 

Tel Aviv is the centerpiece of a modern nation 
grov/ing ever more cosmopolitan and sophisti- 
cated. This is a city made for v/alking. from its 
elegant beachfront promenade through its 
lovely parks, chic shopping districts and fine 
museums. Among Tel Aviv's newest cultural 
treasures is the Nev/ Center for the Performing 
Arts. The city's burgeoning cultural diversity is 
deliciously expressed in its cuisine, served in 
an equally diverse array of locales. The birthplace 
of modern Tel Aviv, the picturesque 4.000 
year-old port of Jaffa is a fascinating destination 
all its ov/n. Long a thriving artists' colony. 
Jaffa is also home to a wide spectrum of craft 
shops, galleries, and museums. 

In Israel's Galilee region, pastoral settings evoke 
the feeling of Biblical times. Perched atop Mount 
Canaan at the highest point in Israel, the ancient 
holy city of Safed offers magnificent views east to 
the Sea of Galilee and the River Jordan. Safed is a 
favorite refuge for many Israelis who revel in the 
purity of its mountain air, the serenity of its tiny 
meandering medieval lanes, and the ornate 
brilliance of its brightly colored synagogues. 

On the shores of the Sea of Galilee (also 
known as Lake Kinneret) lies the scenic and 
holy city of Tiberias, the ideal base for 
excursions throughout the Galilee, including 
the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum, 
two of Israel's most tranquil spots. 

There has never been a better time to visit 
Israel. To mark the advent of the new millennium, 
Israel invites you to take a pilgrimage of 
your own design. A variety of special events, 
exhibitions, and opportunities have been 
created to make a visit to Israel in 2000 an 
even more extraordinary journey. Take part in 
a variety of tours, conferences, and festivals: 
enjoy special concerts and museum exhibits: 
commemorate your visit by fulfilling the 
Biblical injunction to plant a tree In the Holy 
Land. Whatever you choose to do. your trip to 
Israel promises memories to last a lifetime. ♦ 



FR^4^|f^F ♦ More alluring than ever 





n 1 

^ IMMlH 





E&f-, ^>^<nw 








' /^^HJ^^H 

France's lovely, historic architecture invites exploration and inspires awe 

New Year's Eve fete on the 
Champs-Elysees and at the Eiffel 
Tower. France invites visitors to join in a series 
of ongoing celebrations throughout 2000 and 
well into the 21st century. 

Among the most notable commemorative 
programs are the Mendienne Verte and the 
Bastille Day 2000 Incredible Picnic. On November 
25. 1999. over 100.000 French school children 
and their teachers were invited to participate and 


witness the simultaneous planting of over 3.500 
young trees marking the beginning of the 
Meridienne Vert, or Green Meridian, a 576 mile- 
long line along the Meridienne de Paris, running 
from Dunkerque to the north and descending 
south, via Paris, to Prats-de-Mollo. a village in 
the eastern Pyrenees close to the Spanish border. 
When completed in the late spring, this line of 
over 10.000 indigenous trees, including oaks. 
hornbeams, cedars, and olive trees, will traverse 
8 regions. 20 departments and 337 cities and 
towns in France. Fields of poppies, clove, and 
other predominantly red flowers will be planted 
at 20 sites along the Meridienne Verte. and are 
expected to be in full bloom for the Incredible 
Picnic, a huge national outing to be held along 

the Green Meridian on July 14. 2000. 

On July 8. 2000. Pans will host 
"PeripheRock." the Millennium 
edition of the annual "Fete de la 
Musique" featuring performances 
by scores of live rock-and-roll bands. 
The peripherique, the beltway of 
Pans, will for the first time be partially 
closed to traffic and transformed 
into a huge stage and nightclub 
where revelers will dance the day 
and night away to the sounds of 
top music groups from all over 
the world. The celebration will also continue 
well into the night in the city's major squares 
and in the suburbs and throughout the country. 

This year also marks the reopening of the 
Georges Pompidou Center, housing France's 
National Museum of Modern Art. now tripled in 
size. The museum exhibits on two full levels a 
permanent collection of 1.400 works. The 
contemporary art collection, exhibited on level 
4. includes works in the plastic arts, architecture 
and design from the 1960s to the present. Level 
5 houses the modern art collection of 900 works 
dating from 1905 to the 1960s. 

The restoration and expansion projects at the 
Louvre also reach fruition in 2000. Finishing touches 
this year include the completion of reorganized 
collections, including the Graphic Arts department, 
the Northern Schools 18th and 19th century 
paintings, and the Mediterranean Antiquities in 
the Denon Vi/ing. The new Musee de la Publicite. 
housed in the Pavilion Marsan of the Palace of the 
Louvre, is dedicated to advertising, featuring a 
collection of 10,000 posters form the 18th century 
to the present as well as thousands of television, 
film, and radio clips. 

For the best buys, consider the La Carte 
Museum and Monument Pass, covenng 
admission for 70 museums and monuments 
in Paris and its environs. It's available for one. 
three, or five consecutive days for roughly $12, 
$25, and $37 US. ♦ 




Imagine yourself strolling through the 
magnificent halls and gardens of a chateau 
in the Loire Valley. Now you know how it 
feels to be royalty! This is just one of the 
2000 ways to enjoy the pleasures of France. 

To help plan your trip, order a free 
France Discovery Kit, which includes: 

• France Discovery Guide ~ a 112 page 
planner with itineraries, tips on travel, 
events and the pleasures each region 
has to offer. 

• Air France Holidays catalog of travel 
pacl(ages featuring romantic getaways 
to Paris, cooking classes in Provence, 
wine tours of Beaujolais, villa rentals 
and more. 

For a free France Discovery Kit call or visit: 







ABOVE & BEXOND * Taking the mad less-traveled 



ML that offer a true departure from the 
norm and adventures that will expand your 
horizons, both geographically and personally. 

The volcanic island of Mauritius is distinguished 
not only for its exotic location and natural beauty, 
but for its unique heritage, history, and culture. 
Situated just north of the Tropic of Capricorn in 
the Indian Ocean, off the east coast of Madagascar, 
Mauritius is almost entirely surrounded by one 
of the largest unbroken coral reefs in the world. 

The first attempt at actual colonization was 
made by the Dutch who arrived in 1 598 and 
named the island Mauritius after Prince Maurice 
of Nassau, eventually abandoning their 
settlements in 1710. The French occupied the 
island between 1715 and 1818. The British 
takeover led to the importation of Chinese and 
Indian indentured laborers who were soon 
followed by traders of their own nationalities. 
in 1968, Mauritius gained independence from 
Britain and is now a sovereign Republic. 

Today, visitors to Mauritius enjoy colorful 
reflections of the island's history in its languages, 
architecture, and cuisine. Local festivals reflect 
the variety and distinct flavor of this cultural 
melting pot, with religious ceremonies and feast 
days observing Hindu, Muslim, Chinese, and 
Christian traditions, among others. 

The Maltese Islands offer an idyllic Mediter- 
ranean vacation to suit nearly any interest. 
Blessed with year-round sunshine and set in 
crystal clear waters, Malta and its sister islands 
of Gozo and Comino create the perfect setting 
for quiet relaxation, active adventure, or a bit of 
both. Malta's outstanding archeological and 
architectural sites "a living testimony to 6,000 
years of history" serve as an impressive 
backdrop for all kinds of experiences, from the 
serene to the hypercharged. For lovers of music, 
theater, and the arts. Malta offers an abundant 

for more information on travel to 
Mauritius, contact air Mauritius 


calendar of events. For the 

sports-oriented, the islands 

offer golf, tennis, sky-diving, 

horseback riding and a variety of watersports, from 

sailing and windsurfing to some of the best scuba 

diving in the Mediterranean. 

To travel to Malta is to taste its colorful cultural 
history with all of the senses. Delicious local cuisine 
and wines, bustling open-air markets, traditional 
festivals and fireworks, lovely local crafts, lace, and 
glassware, and the thrilling pulse of the casinos 
and nightclubs combine to make a visit to Malta 
an unforgettable journey of discovery. 

Travel through the Mediterranean is made 
even more enticing onboard an elegant cruise ship. 
The region offers a nearly overwhelming array of 

FOR MORE information ON TRAVEL 
TO MALTA, CALL 212-695-9520 OR 

choices. But when you leave 
your travel planning to the 
experts, all you have to do is 
relax and enjoy Among the best options for under- 
stated yet indulgent cruise vacations are Swan 
Ffellenic cruises. In addition to spring and summer 
journeys along the coastline of Turkey and through- 
out the Greek islands. Swan Hellenic offers a mid- 
summer round-Britain cruise. As the first Millennium 
year draws to a close. Swan Hellenic will host 
special tours of the ancient wodd, around the Red 
Sea and beyond, visiting tombs and temples along 
the Nile and onwards to the Gulf to enjoy Arabian 
days and nights in Oman, Dubai, and Fujairah. 
Christmas itineraries include a sun-filled cruise 
along the west coast of India from Mumbai 


Worldwide adventure, 
discovery, culture. Discover 
it all in our new brochure. 
Only Swan Hellenic gives 
you an innovative choice 
of exotic, and often rarely 
visited, destinations. Other 
unique features are our 
inclusive prices and the 
new 300-passenger 
Minerva, a four-star plus 
floating country house 
hotel. We'd tell you 
more,. .but why spoil 
a good read. 


For your copy, call 
your travel agent or 


, P&DV-*, c 

- Madagascar = 

A Madagascar Discovery 

four from $3,960-4,440* 

for a 1 2-day tour with 

air, hotel, most meals 

and sightseeing. 

Plus optional stopovers 

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See Madagascar the exotic 
island with the world's most 
dense rainforests, wildlife to 

be found nowhere else, 

the world largest variety of 

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including over 1000 varieties 

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For Madagascar or our 

new brochure to the 

islands of the hidian 

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560 Sylvan Ave., Englewood Cliffs, NJ 07632 (201) 871-8381 

Airline to the islands of the Indian Ocean 

* Package ovoil, throuqh Ocl. 23, 2000. Per person price vories by departure 

dale, based on NYC departure with 8 nights nolel, double occup, Hus $65 in 

airport fees. Hotel upgrodes ol extra cost. Some restrictions apply. 


adventurers: call international 

WILDLIFE adventures AT 800-S93-888I 


(Bombay) to Kochi (Cochin) and Sn Lanka. 

With Swan Hellenic, you can design your own va- 
cation, choosing from among "Cruise 6 Stay," "Cruise 
6 Beach," and "Cruise b Tour" package options. 

This year, why not take a trip to the truly wild 
side? International Wildlife Adventures, a Wash- 
ington-based tour company invites intrepid nature 
enthusiasts to experience one of the world's most 
engaging wildlife events. Each year in the fall 
along the western shore of Canada's Hudson Bay 
scores of polar bears gather around the bay near 
Churchill. Manitoba to await the moment when 
the water freezes so they can venture out to hunt 
seals. To make closer viewing of this natural 
phenomenon possible, the company is utilizing 
innovative Tundra Buggies,"' giant, soft-tire 
vehicles that take explorers into the polar 
bears' domain. For those wanting an even 
more in-depth experience of the bears' world. 

Polar bears do what comes 
naturally near Churchill, Manitoba. 

there is a specially-designed Tundra Camp, a 
modular lodge on wheels set right on the shores 
of the Hudson Bay. serving as an excellent 
base for observation and photography. ♦ 


This special editorial/advertising supplement was created by the Natural Historv Special Sections Department and did not involve the 
magazine's editonal stafL ♦ writer Kathryn Brennan • DESIGN Mindy Phelps Stanton ♦ PHOTOGRAPHY Covet and Israel photos 
courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Tourism: France photo courtesy of the French Government Tourist Office: polar bear photo j) Randy Green. 



Bear Watching 

We've pioneered for more than a 
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Seeing is believing 








9 ■■■■ 


Imagine the splendor of 
Europe with the charm 
of the Mediterranean. Add 
some exotic flavor and a hint 
of mystery. The place is real. 
The name is Malta. 

Direct flights from New Yorl</JFK: 


Malta Tour-ist Office 

2t2 695-9520 Fax:212695-8229 i j 




Imagine yourself picnicking by the Loire 
River. A baguette, cheese, a bottle of 
wine, and a magnificent chateau for a 
backdrop. This is just one of the 2000 
w/ays to enjoy the pleasures of France. 

To help plan your trip, order a free 
France Discovery Kit, which includes: 

• France Discovery Guide - a 112 page 
planner with itineraries, tips on travel, 
events and the pleasures each region 
has to offer. 

• Air France Holidays catalog of travel 
packages featuring romantic getaways 
to Paris, cooking classes in Provence, 
wine tours of Beaujolais, villa rentals 
and more. 

For a free France Discovery Kit call or visit: 





FRENCH GOVIRWOfr TO>.-<?iT [>~>t£ 

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arles Bergman ~ PhotogiFaphs by Steve Winter 


Calling with Imiii, raspy scroeclu-s, a pair of 
great green macaws flew around the huge 
alinendro tree several times before gliding 
onto a high branch. Deep within a nest cav- 
ity near the top of the tree, the pair's two chicks ut- 
tered hoarse coos, begging for food. Without en- 
tering the nest, both macaw parents began a soft 
nuirinuring exchange witii the expectant young. 
At the base of the tree, Fani Wright and Ulisis Ale- 
man waited, as they had all morning, hoping one of 
the parents would enter the nest hole and thus be- 
come easier to catch. Then, if all went well, they 
would outfit the two-and-a-half-foot-long bird 
with a radio collar and transmitter. Wright is the di- 
rector of and Aleman a long-time volunteer in a re- 
search project sponsored by the Tropical Science 
Center in Costa Rica. The information they gather 
may help determine the future of this macaw spe- 
cies in Central America. 

Although Ara ainbii^Ha, the great green macaw — 
also known as Buffons macaw — is a magnificent 
bird by any standards, until recently this species has 
been a stepchild of Costa Rican conservation. A 
model among Latin American countries for its 
strong environmental policies, Costa Rica is home 
to an impressive system of national parks and re- 
serves. But a look at a map of protected areas reveals 
that the land set aside — about 24 percent of the en- 
tire country — is primarily high mountain cloud 
forest and secondarily the beachy Pacific coast. Vir- 
tually none of the lowland tropical rainforests of 

the species' primary habitat, food sources, or nest- 
ing habits had appeared in the scientific literature. 

That year, George Powell visited northeastern 
Costa Rica, near the Nicaraguan border. Then a 
conservation biologist for the Philadelphia-based 
l^RE Center for Tropical Conservation, Powell 
was well known in Costa Rica for his research on 
the resplendent cjuetzal and his leadership in estab- 
lishing the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve to 
protect the quetzal and other species. Powell also 
became interested in setting conservation priorities 
for the lowland rainforests, and he thought the 
great green macaw could serve as an indicator spe- 
cies, a kind of barometer of the health of the 

Conferring with residents of the region, Powell 
launched a study of the parrot. Ulisis Aleman, a na- 
tive of El Salvador but long a resident of Costa 
Rica, showed Powell his first great green nest, lo- 
cated on a farm for the cultivation of heliconia 
flowers, where Aleman worked. They found three 
more nests that year, and PoweU returned the next 
year to set up a team and begin full-scale research. 
Today, while Powell continues to guide the work, 
Louisiana native Pam Wright directs project opera- 
tions, leading a team of volunteers: Aleman and five 
women from five different countries, both Central 
and North American. 

What makes the project unusual as well as suc- 
cessfijl — and has made possible the accumulation of 
much of the data — is the radio-collar technique de- 

The great green macaw project has a mission: to find out everything it can about 
the big parrot and save it from extinction. High tech is helping. 

northern Costa Rica near the Caribbean coast have 
received protection. Characterized by evergreens 
and broad-leaved trees, some reaching up as high as 
200 feet, this disappearing wet lowland forest is the 
prime habitat of the great green macaw. 

The situation probably owes something to the 
Umited resources and economic realities of the re- 
gion and to the sheer numbers of species to study 
and protect throughout Central America. Never- 
theless, it is telling that a bird so large — the second- 
largest parrot in the Western Hemisphere — and en- 
dangered, according to the Convention on 
International Trade in Endangered Species 
(CITES), should have been overlooked. Local 
people knew the great green macaw {lapa vcrde in 
Spanish), but as recently as 1993 no description of 

veloped by Powell. Together with biologist Robin 
Bjork, PoweU pioneered the use of radiotelemetr%' 
to discover the seasonal movement patterns ot the 
resplendent quetzal, and he was able to adapt the 
device to the macaws. Only one other study, con- 
ducted in Bohvia, has used radiotelemetry to study 
macaws. By 1999, thirty-seven great green 
macaws — nineteen adults and eighteen juveniles — 
had been equipped with ti'ansmitters. 

Radiotelemetry has proved crucial in docu- 
menting the breeding ranges, foraging habits, and 
seasonal movements of the great green macaw. 
Such natural history intbrniation is a prerequisite of 
any sound conservation plan. The species" habitat is 
Hmited to lowland, primarily coastal, rainforests 
from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia. An 

Opposite page: 
At nestside, an 
adult great green 
macaw wears a 
brass cylinder 
harboring a radio 
transmitter. Only 
the brass design 
has proved to be 


50 C N S E R VATI N natural history 4/oo 

L.- qgt-.^gK V'm ■ TT'iBT-nirrrniyiy ■ -^ >- 

In six years, the researchers have located fifty-one active great green macaw 
nestSr although no more than nineteen have ever been in use in any one year. 

Above, left: A 
parent bird peers 
from a 

particularly lofty 
nest cavity in an 
almendro tree. 
Veteran climber 
and macaw 
handler Ulisis 
Aleman quickly 
extracts the bird, 
center, and 
places it in a 
soft bag for its 
descent, right, to 
the hands of 
project leader 
Pam Wright. 

isolated population of fewer than two dozen indi- 
viduals survives near Guayaquil, in Ecuador. Ac- 
cording to the 1989 Guide to Birds in Costa Rica, by 
F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch, the species 
once nested throughout Costa Rica's lowland 
forests. Through extensive fieldwork and local in- 
terviews, the macaw project has identified the 
major remaining breeding range of the birds in the 
country as an area roughly outhned by the Rio 
Sarapiqui on the east and the Rio San Carlos on the 
west; both these rivers flow into the Rio San Juan, 
which forms part of the country's border with 
Nicaragua. At about 2,600 square miles, this cur- 
rent range covers only 10 percent of the species' 
original known range (see map, page 52). 

During the first six years of the study, re- 
searchers located fifty-one active nests, although no 
more than nineteen were ever in use in any one 
year. Long-hved and slow-breeding, great green 
macaws take four or five years to mature and even 
then do not nest every year. Powell and Wright es- 
timate that there are only about 35 breeding pairs 
and about 100 to 150 juvenile and other nonbreed- 
ing great greens in Costa Rica. 

I visited the study area in the summer of 1998 

and again in April 1999, when I met Pam Wright 
and her team at the cabin that serves as their re- 
search headquarters in Boca Tapada. A small agri- 
cultural town situated on the Rio San Carlos, just 
twelve miles from the Nicaraguan border, it is 
reached by a dirt road that winds past huge planta- 
tions of pineapple, banana, and palm — the kind of 
cultivated landscape that is replacing the lowland 
rainforest in Costa Rica. Our plans were to stake 
out a great green macaw nest and try to capture one 
of the parent birds. 

We drove for about forty minutes and then 
hiked for another half hour through largely treeless 
pasture to reach the nest. (Wright mentioned that 
just a generation ago, local people would see flocks 
of a hundred or more of the birds.) The nest cavity 
was high, about a hundred feet up a lone almendro 
tree that grew on a privately owned cattle ranch. 
Because macaws are inteUigent and wary birds — not 
Hkely to approach their nest while a group of hu- 
mans is milling about — Wright and Aleman, who 
had the trap apparatus, hid in some bushes at the 
base of the tree while the rest of us hunkered down 
farther off. Even then, the pair were skittish when 
they appeared, noisily circling as we waited and 

VVrighi., dLiove, 
records data as 
volunteer Tana 
Wood hoists a 
radio antenna 
that will help 
the team map 
the birds' 
movements. Left: 
Adult great green 
macaws average 
thirty inches in 
length and are 
Ihe second 
largest of the 
macaw species, 
all of which are 
native to the 

52C0NSERVATI N natural history 4/oo 

storm clouds loomed. We had been stationed in the 
pasture for about four hours when they landed and 
finally neared the cavity. 

As one of the adults slid over to the Up of the 
nest, Wright care&lly reached for a rope at her feet. 
Wise to all the "moves" of the macaws, Wright 
held back when the bird made a quick ducking 
motion — a kind of head fake, she later joked — into 
the hole. Then, when the macaw swiftly slipped in- 
side for real, Wright jerked on the rope. Attached 
to nearly invisible fishing Hne threaded through eye 
screws in the tree, the rope flipped a homemade 
trap of sticks and more fishing line over the nest 
hole. A piercing scream confirmed that the parent 
was inside with its two chicks. 

Instantly Aleman began to hoist himself up the 
tree in harness and ropes. At the nest, and hanging 
far above ground, he used another stick-and-hne 
device (this one looked vaguely like a lacrosse 
racket) to gingerly scoop the parent macaw from 
the nest while avoiding its powerful beak, which 
could snap a finger. He placed the bird in a sack 
and lowered it to the ground, where Wright and 
several volunteers handled the macaw with prac- 
ticed efficiency. First they weighed it — it was three 
pounds — and checked for parasites and other 
health indicators. Then they fitted the bird with a 
brass collar and a radio transmitter. Trial-and-error 
work on captive birds with other collar designs had 
made clear that the coUar had to be brass; macaws 
use their massive beaks to gnaw through any mate- 
rial that is less durable. The cyhndrical transmitter 
on this bird's collar was painted black and orange so 
that even when the transmitter died, the bird could 


Historic range in Costa Rica 

Current range in Costa Rica 

Still be identified. Because the anterma is inside the 
collar's small brass cyhnder, it cannot be chewed 
off. The macaw would now be known by its radio 
frequency, "76.8." 

To call a bird by its number is precise, if dull, 
but I found that none of the various names for this 
species prepares one for the beauty of the birds up 
close. This was especially true of the two chicks, 
which Aleman lowered one at a time for Wright 
to inspect and fit with identification bands. Their 
new plumage was particularly fresh and vibrant 
and shone like a forest of greens — ^hme to jade to 
emerald. The birds' wings are blue and their tails a 
rainbow of yellow, red, and blue. In the young, 
the blue of the tail feathers is a gleaming tur- 
quoise. A shock of red feathers rims the beak like 
a bonnet, and one of the chicks had a splotch of 
cadmium yellow on its head. On their cheek 
patches the birds have small black feathers that 
form stripes, the patterns of which may vary with 
the individual. Biologist and macaw expert 
Charles Munn, who has studied macaws in Peru 
for many years, has shown that in scarlet macaws 
these facial markings are individualized, like fin- 

,iiv l.iRi. tlu- young fledge — that is, they take their 
first flight. Still, the family will stay together for 
about atiotlicr year. 

Powell and Wrights macaw project has moni- 
tored eighteen nesting attempts and recorded an av- 
erage success rate (chicks raised to the fledging 
stage) of 1.8 chicks per nest. This is slightly higher 
tiian the average for other macaws. Some re- 
searchers working with otlicr endangered macaw 
species take a second egg and rear it by hand to in- 
crease the chances ot the youngs surviving and to 
augment the productivity of a nest. But Wright has 
found that more often than not, great green 
macaws fledge rvvo healthy young on their own. 

On another day, we visited the nest of radio- 
equipped macaw "29." Wright hoped to be able to 
put a radio collar on this bird's mate because she 
wanted to see whether pairs maintain their bond 
from year to year — a connection that is suspected 
but not documented. Situated much lower than the 
nest of "76.8," this nest was easier to watch. Macaw 
"29" and his mate ("29" had not incubated eggs, so 
Wright inferred it was male) worked as partners. 
They arrived together at the nest every two to four 
hours, ted the young, and always left together. 
Never silent, the birds announced their presence 
with screams, resonant and unmistakable even in a 
forest filled with natural sounds. Macaws are social 

Left: A chick 
(sinking its 

formidable bill 
into a woven 
bag) was fitted 
with an 

identifying leg 
band and 
returned to the 
nest. The pattern 
of black cheek 
feathers may be 
individual to 
each bird. 

The macaw chicks fledge, or learn to fly, when they are three to four months old, 
but they will remain with their parents for another year. 

gerprints. He suspects that the case is the same in 
great green macaws. 

Wright and Aleman quickly returned ail three 
birds to the nest. According to Aleman, who has 
seen all the nests, this one was t^'pical in its roomi- 
ness, at about four feet deep. The average nest, 
however, is a mere sixt\- to seventy-five feet off the 
ground. By observing nests, the team has learned a 
lot about the habits of great green macaws. A noisy 
courtship begins in earnest in November, with 
squawking, prancing, and strutting. By late January 
or early February-, the female has laid one to three 
eggs. Only one parent, which the researchers as- 
sume to be the female (the sexes cannot be distin- 
guished in the held), broods the eggs; the other de- 
livers tbod. Once the eggs hatch, both parents 
forage and carry food back to the nest in their 
crops, regurgitating it for the chicks. Usually at the 
end of April, or about a hundred days after the eggs 

and demonstrative. When not perched near the 
ca\aty and cooing constandy to the young, this pair 
would be high in a nearby tree, preening, grooming 
each other, beak nipping, and "chatting." 

Like the other macaw family I v-isited, this one 
nested in an almendro. About 90 percent of the 
nests are located in this kind of tree. Scientifically 
known as Dipteryx paiuviiensis, it is "emergent," 
with branches that poke through the high canopy 
of the forest, although on cattle ranches and in 
other cleared fields it stands stately and alone. The 
macaw project has shown that the life and tliture 
ot the great green macaw are closely ried to this 
tree species. Not only do the macaws prefer the 
almendro for nests, they also avidly devour its fruit 
and seeds. A green legume about the size of an 
apricot, the fruit contains a large, hard seed, 
which is nevertheless easily crushed by the beak of 
a macaw. The tree is in frmt from October to 

54l CO N S E R VATIO N natural history 4/oo 

April, which corresponds with the great greens' 
breeding season. At nests monitored by the pro- 
ject, 80 percent of all feeding observed during 
January has been on almendro. Wright noted that 
the birds seem to love the fruit; she has seen as 
many as thirty macaws feeding in a single tree. 
When the almendro is not in season, the macaws 
switch to another fruit, that of the titor, or 
Sacoglottis trichogyna, which forms the bulk of the 
macaws' diet from April to June. 

According to the radiotelemetry data, foraging 
and seasonal movements are closely connected. 
The research team uses ATVs, aerial surveillance, 
and plain bushwhacking to follow radio signals, 
and they have pieced together the pattern of the 

hard to be cut readily. As a result, many individual 
almendros have survived, often standing alone in 
otherwise cleared fields that are used for catde graz- 
ing. In the 1990s, however, almendros have fallen 
victim to new and tougher saw blades. Since the 
macaw project began, 16 percent — or 8 of 51 — of 
the nest trees the team has monitored have been 
chopped down. 

The project has developed a macaw conserva- I 
tion plan that focuses on the protection of habitat. 
Only small sections of Tortuguero and BrauUo Car- 
illo national parks jut into the macaws' breeding 
range. The project hopes to protect enough land in 
both the breeding area and the migration area to 
support at least fifty breeding pairs. In conservation 

The future of the great green macaw is closely tied to the almendro tree. Not only 
do the macaws nest in the almendro, but they also avidly devour its fruit. 

Now eight years 
old, Paquita, 
opposite, was a 
chick when her 
nest tree, an 
almendro, was 
cut down. 
Although young 
macaws are often 
sold to the pet 
trade, she was 
saved and raised 
by a local 

species' movements. Great green macaws are ele- 
vational, rather than distance, migrants. When 
titor becomes scarce in the breeding range, a few 
birds stay and manage on what they can find, a 
few move into Nicaragua to look for food, but 
many move upslope. The family of bird "29" is 
typical. At the end of June, both adults and the 
one surviving juvenile (also radio-coUared, and 
known as "8.7") moved about twenty-four miles 
south of the nest site. The project members lo- 
cated them as they fed near the La Selva Research 
Station, at about 900 feet elevation, where titor is 
more densely distributed. Then, in September, 
the family migrated again, up to 2,100 feet in the 
mountains of Costa Rica's Central Range. At this 
point, the birds were feeding on a wide variety of 
fruit, some thirty different species. 

Like most species of parrot, great green macaws 
have suffered as a result of hunting and the pet 
trade, but their most serious problem is the loss of 
their habitat to agriculture. The fertile lowlands are 
especially coveted by agricultural interests, and eco- 
nomic pressure is brought to bear to clear land for 
tree and fruit plantations. A study of deforestation 
in Costa Rica conducted in the 1970s and 1980s 
revealed that forests were being lost at a rate of 3 
percent a year. Between 1986 and 1992 — until the 
year before the macaw project began — satellite im- 
ages of the species' breeding range showed a 35 per- 
cent loss. 

The favored almendro tree once enjoyed a kind 
of de facto protection because its wood was too 

biology, that is the minimum necessary for a popu- 
lation to maintain its numbers in the short term. 

In 1996 the Comision Nacional Lapa Verde, 
made up of local residents, government representa- 
tives, planters, and even a few loggers, successfully 
lobbied for the setting of some limits on almendro 
harvesting. Along with project volunteers, the 
commission is active in an outreach program to in- 
form local people of its work. The great green 
macaw is becoming a symbol of local pride. 

As their natural history becomes better known, 
these birds may prove to be their own best ambas- 
sadors. This was brought home to me at the third 
nest I visited with the team. Wright and Aleman 
were hoping to radio-tag one of the young before it 
fledged. When we arrived, it was clear that one 
chick was indeed close to flying for the first time. It 
sat peering out at us from the nest cavity and 
watched with an almost comic attentiveness as Ale- 
man scaled the almendro, scrambUng over epiphytes 
and bromeHads growing on the tree trunk. When 
Aleman neared the hole, the young bird squawked 
and jumped — into the air. 

We watched as it sagged into its maiden fhght, 
pounded its wings as it plunged toward the ground, 
and then caught enough lift to rise, if unsteadily. 
Although this meant one less bird collared, we 
cheered and clapped; it was the first time Wright 
had seen a juvenile fledge. The young great green 
macaw wobbled aerially into a nearby copse of 
trees, where it disappeared in the dense leaves, 
green vanishing into green. D 

~ 56|EV0LUTI0N natural history 4/00 



Every second or so of every minute of every 
hour of every day, something remarkable hap- 
pens inside your body. The valves of your 
heart open, blood surges into its chambers, the 
heart contracts, and then blood comes blasting out, 
either to load up with oxygen in the lungs or to 
flow into the rest of your body. Every beat of your 
heart is the result of a precise choreography of elec- 
trical impulses and swirling fluids, a choreography 
without which you'd be dead in minutes. 

Over the past several years, scientists have gone 
a long way toward figuring out how, this complex 
and vital organ evolved. By comparing the hearts 
of Uving animals and unlocking the genes that 
buUd them, they have found that while there may 
be no physiological truth to the expression "my 
heart is in my throat," that may be exactly where 
hearts began. They've also discovered that the 
change from simple tube to complex, chambered 
organ may have happened in an evolutionary flash. 

The first foreshadowings of the heart reach 
back to at least 800 million years ago, when the 
first known multicellular fossils formed. A single 
cell can draw in oxygen and nutrients through its 
membrane, but once cells start huddHng together, 
some wiU be cut off from the outside world. Cells 
can pass nutrients to one another across their mem- 
branes, but it's a slow process that works only over 
tiny distances. An animal of any size needs a 
plumbing system. 

You can find a simple (though elegant) version 
of plumbing in sponges, which are among the most 
primitive animals on the planet. The sponge is shot 
through with tunnels that branch into smaller and 
smaller tunnels. Lining the tunnels are cells with 
little hairs that wave back and forth, pumping 
water through the organism at a tremendous rate; 

as the water flows past, the cells extract oxygen 
from it and filter out particles of food. These tun- 
nels enable a sponge to bring seawater directly to 
all its cells, making it, in a sense, a multicellular an- 
imal trying to Hve a unicellular Hfe. 

But evolution later produced more complex 
animals, with cells that could no longer fend for 
themselves. The bodies of these more complex or- 


ganisms have cells of many different types, each 
dedicated to its own specialized work. A photore- 
ceptor ceU in a squid's eye, for example, helps the 
squid see but doesn't feed itself. These animals 
need a circulatory system to replenish their cells, 
and they need something to keep that system 
pumping. You can find hearts, or heartUke struc- 
tures, beating in the bodies of many complex ani- 
mals, including moUusks, arthropods, and chor- 
dates (among which are vertebrates such as 
ourselves.) Yet few of these hearts, other than those 
of vertebrates, resemble our own. 

A fly's heart, for instance, is a muscular tube that 
simply squeezes the insect version of blood (called 
hemolymph) into the body cavity, rather than 
being connected to a closed system of veins and ar- 
teries. The fly's heartbeat is somewhat like the 
peristalsis in your digestive tract: a simple ripple of 
contraction. Unhke flies (and more Uke us), the 
earthworm has a closed vascular system, but instead Studies of an ox 
of a heart, it has eleven contracting vessels, each of heart, by Leonardo 
which pumps much as a heart does. The octopus da Vinci, ca. 1512 

*'* w 


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_ 58 


(a mollusk) has two powerful, chambered hearts, 
each pumping blood through a set of giUs. 

For decades, biologists assumed that all these 
hearts, which look so different firom one another, 
had evolved independently. But in recent years, re- 
search on how genes orchestrate the development 
of hearts within embryos has revealed a hidden 
unity. In the laboratory, scientists alter or remove 
particular genes in animals and then look at the 
consequences in the developing embryo. The de- 
formities that result firom these experiments help 
the researchers figure out a particular gene's usual 
role in development. 

Much of this work has been done on mice, 
which have the advantage of being closely related 
to humans but which have some drawbacks as well; 
for one thing, their embryos grow inside a uterus 
and are difficult to observe. Other experiments 
have involved organisms that are less closely related 
to us yet easier to study, such as vinegar worms and 
firuit flies. A major breakthrough came in 1993, 
when Rolf Bodmer at the University of Michigan 
discovered the gene that controls the development 
of the firuit fly heart; a fly that lacks this gene never 
forms a heart at all. The gene was named tinman, 
after the Tin Woodman in the Wizard of Oz, who 
joins up with Dorothy and sets off for the Emerald 
City to ask the Wizard for a heart. 

Tinman belongs to a special class of genes. Many 
genes carry instructions for making a single protein 
that has a specific job — to build fingernails or make 
hemoglobin, for example. But some genes make 
proteins that control other genes. Some act like 
master switches, triggering many different genes to 
work together to build a structure. Tinman is one 
such "master gene" for the firuit fly. Within a few 
years of its discovery, scientists found master genes 
for building hearts — named, far less poetically, Nkx 
genes — in mice as well. 

What surprised scientists was just how similar 
the mouse's Nkx genes and the fi-uit fly's tinman are. 
When they compared the genes' sequence of base 
pairs (the bonds between the strands of DNA's 
double heUx, which carry genetic information), 
many parts were practically identical. What's more, 
the genes that control Nkx genes, and the genes 
that Nkx genes control in turn, are also similar to 
the genes that play the same roles in flies. The only 
logical conclusion was that tinman and Nkx genes 
have a common origin in the common ancestor of 
insects and mammals, which scientists think was 
probably a flatwormlike animal that lived 700 mil- 

lion years ago or so. This creature most likely had a 
heart much simpler than any of its descendants has 
today — perhaps nothing more than a crude muscu- 
lar tube capable of contracting regularly. 

Genes also provide a hint as to where that first 
protoheart might have come from: the throat. The 
tinman and Nkx genes bear a striking resemblance 
to a gene that helps build the throat muscles in ne- 
matode worms. So here's a possible scenario for 
how the first heart evolved. Every now and then 
during cell division and reproduction, one gene 
(or, rarely, a group of genes) is accidentally dupH- 
cated. Perhaps this happened to the genes that in- 
duced throat formation in a Hneage of primitive 
animals. At first, the second set of throat genes may 
have kept on doing their original job of helping to 
buUd the throat. Then, thanks to a mutation, the 
genes started switching on in cells in a different 
part of the animal's body. Instead of making a mus- 
cular tube that pumped food, these genes began to 
make a muscular tube that pumped blood. 

It's a long way from a simple tube to the cham- 
bers and valves of the vertebrate heart. A look at 
the history of vertebrates suggests the stage at 
which hearts became complex. Vertebrates prob- 
ably descend firom an ancestor similar to ascidians 
(chordates also known as sea squirts). In their larval 
form, ascidians have some anatomical features 
much like our own. They have, for example, a pre- 
cursor to the backbone, a gristly rod in their backs 
known as a notochord. As adults, however, they 
root themselves to the seafloor to fdter out food 
fi-om the water, develop a throat with gill slits, and 
lose their notochord. An ascidian's heart is Uttle 
more than a glorified stretch of blood vessel. 

The oldest true vertebrate fossils date back 530 
miUion years. Less than 100 million years later, the 
first fish evolved, and because the hearts of all fish 
ahve today have chambered hearts and tightly syn- 
chronized contractions, biologists assume that their 
common ancestor — the first fish — did, too. As it 
does in living fish, the blood would have flowed 
past the giUs to pick up oxygen and then continued 
on to the rest of the body. A new kind of cell layer, 
called the endocardium, would have lined the 
heart, thickening it and making it more powerfiil. 
EventuaDy the heart itself grew larger. 

"The question is, how do you transform a sim- 
ple tube into a vertebrate heart in relatively little 
evolutionary time?" asks Mark Fishman, a geneti- 
cist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "That's a re- 
markably ornate change." 

Six-day-old chicken | 
embryo, above. | 
Below: Corazon de I 
America, by Juan 
Elso, 1987. 

To answer that question, Fishniaii and other re- 
searchers turned to genes — specifically to the genes 
of the zebraFish (Danio nrio), a species common in 
home aquariums but relatively new as a "model an- 
imal." Because it's a fish — not an insect, such as the 
fruit fly — the zebrafish has a multichambered 
heart. And unlike a tiny mouse embryo hidden in- 
side its mother's uterus, a zebrafish larva matures on 
its own. Even better for those who want to study 
hearts, its body is transparent. 

When Fishman started studying the embryonic 
zebrafish heart, however, he wasn't sure "if the 
heart would be decipherable, because the genes 
might be used more than once in development." In 
other words, a gene involved in the formation of 
the heart might have had another job earlier in an 
embryo's development, when the embryo was just 
a b.vll of cells. If Fishman created a mutation that 
made such a gene inactive, the embryo would 
never become anything more than that ball, and 
he'd never discover the gene's normal role in build- 
ing the heart. 

"Fortunately, that turned out to be a false 


worry," says Fishman. His team and others have 
found more than a hundred genes involved in heart 
development. After tmman-]ike genes have finished 
creating a simple tube, these other genes switch on, 
transforming the tube into the complex organ 
we're familiar with. And some of the genes took 
Fishman by surprise. By knocking out a single one 
of them, his group could create a heart that was 
missing its ventricle but was otherwise normal; 
knocking out a different one produced a heart that 
was missing valves but nothing else. These genes 
seemed to be in charge of litde modules of genes 
that worked together to build specific parts of the 
heart. Fishman ended up finding about a dozen 
heart-module genes. "It was more than we could 
have hoped for," says the geneticist. "It meant we 
could dissect organ development, because we had 
individual elements that could be removed." 

Fishman also reaHzed that the way these heart- 
module genes work in hving fish might hold a clue 
to the evolution of vertebrate hearts. It's possible 
that the complex, chambered heart didn't change 

gradually, with many genes evolving minor muta- 
tions that changed their functions. Instead, each of 
the lieart modules may have existed in earlier ver- 
tebrates, where they performed other, still un- 
known jobs. Merely by tinkering with the master 
gene that controlled a module, evolution could 
have quickly invented a new structure for the 
heart. To picture the difference between these two 
kinds of evolution, imagine building a concrete 
bridge. If you build it by adding sand grains one at 
a time, it will take a lot longer than if you assemble 
it firom large prefabricated blocks. 

With powerful chambers, valves, and all the 
other parts of the vertebrate heart in place, the 
blood of an early fish could be pumped at higher 
pressures and therefore travel farther from the 
heart. And this souped-up circulatory system 
meant that fish could grow large enough to hunt 
down smaller prey. Thanks to a genetic revolution, 
Fishman suggests, vertebrates changed from lowly 
filter feeders into the ocean's top predators. 

There's a built-in problem with the fish heart, 
though. It pumps blood through the gills, where 
the blood loads up with fresh oxygen before travel- 
ing through the rest of the body, nourishing mus- 
cles and organs as it goes. By the time it returns to 
the heart, it has used up a lot of the oxygen. The 
heart is hke a waiter who is forced to eat only the 
scraps left at the end of a meal. 

This design can cause trouble when a fish tries 
to swim fast: the harder it swims, the more oxygen 
is devoured by its swimming muscles, leaving even 
less to nourish the heart. But there are a couple of 
ways to get around this constraint. One is to divert 
blood back firom the gills to the heart while it is stiQ 
rich in oxygen. That's what some fish have done, 
evolving coronary arteries that move blood 
through the heart tissues. Tony Farrell, a physiolo- 
gist at Simon Fraser University in British Colum- 
bia, has found that the flow of blood through the 
coronary arteries of a trout triples during exercise, 
enabling the fish's heart to keep pumping hard. 

Another way to become a stronger swimmer 
may be to evolve lungs. Today lungs are found not 
only in land vertebrates but also in a few obscure 
fish lineages, such as gar, bichir, and lungfish. Many 
other species of fish have swim bladders, which 
they use to control their buoyancy. For a long time, 
paleontologists thought that lungs had evolved 
fa.-om swim bladders, helping fish survive in stag- 
nant waters, where ox\-gen often ran low. But the 
fish themselves tell a diflerent stor\'. About 420 



million years ago, evolution split jawed fish into 
two great branches: cartilaginous (such as sharks 
and rays) and bony (everything else, from lungfish 
and trout to sea horses). Sharks have neither swim 
bladders nor lungs, suggesting that both these use- 
flil organs must have evolved in bony fish after the 
spht. Which came first? The most primitive 
branches of bony fish all have lungs, while swim 
bladders are found only in the teleost branch. The 
simplest explanation of the evidence is that the 
common ancestor of today's bony fish had lungs 
and that lungs turned into swim bladders in the Hn- 
eage that led to teleosts. 

The oldest fossils of bony fish aU come from 
marine waters, where fish presumably didn't have 
to worry too much about running low on oxygen. 
So why did fish evolve lungs, when they had gOls 
that seemed perfectly well adapted for getting oxy- 
gen from water? CoUeen Farmer, a physiologist at 
the University of Utah, thinks that the evolution of 
lungs made fish better swimmers. In air-breathing 
fish, some of the blood that flows through the gills 
gets diverted to the heart, and when these fish 
swim hard, they tend to breathe more air. Farmer 
suggests that they're trying to keep their hearts sup- 
pHed with enough oxygen. And that, she proposes, 
may have been the initial pressure driving the evo- 
lution of the first lungs some 400 million years ago. 
"These lunged fish," says Farmer, "were active 
predators cruising around the open ocean." 

The question then becomes why (and when) so 
many fishes lost their lungs. Farmer speculates that 

the change started when rising to the surface to 
breathe became risky. About 220 million years ago, 
the sky began to fill with predators — scaly-winged 
pterosaurs and, eventually, birds — that snatched up 
the fish they saw while flying over the water. Per- 
haps fish species that lost their lungs flourished, 
while those with lungs became rare. 

Fortunately for humans, one Uneage of lunged 
fish hauled ashore about 360 million years ago, 


eventually giving rise to land-dwelling amphibians, 
reptiles, and mammals. In the millions of years that 
followed, these vertebrates have retooled their 
hearts in multiple ways. Hummingbirds evolved 
rapid-fire hearts that can beat twenty-two times per 
second; frogs and squirrels evolved the abiUty to 
slow down their hearts during hibernation. Whales 
returned to the sea and evolved huge hearts — in 
the case of the blue whale, a heart capable of 
pumping sixty gallons per minute. And crocodiles, 
when underwater, can redirect the flow of blood to 
bypass their lungs entirely. What makes these trans- 
formations all the more amazing is that the basic 
genetic recipe for the vertebrate heart hasn't 
changed much at all. When it comes to the heart, 
we all swim with the fishes. D 

Opposite page: In 
the Egyptian hall of 
judgment, the gods 
Anubis, left, and 
Thoth weigh the 
heart of a dead 
person (21st 
dynasty, 1075-ca. 
945 B.C.). Left: 
Nancy and I at 
Ithaca, by Jim 
Dine, 1966-69. 

' -■ .9V- --AJ^*— ■ 

ii'iftfcvv-'i' --^'--'"" 






Biologists would love to know just how the verte- 
brate heart evolved from the simple, two-cham- 
bered organ of early fish to the complex, multi- 
chambered hearts of birds and mammals, vwth their 
two atria (which receive blood from the veins) and 
two ventricles (which pump blood back out 
through the arteries). Unfortunately, soft tissues 
rarely make good fossils, so we are unlikely ever to 
know for certain. But we can construct a hypothet- 
ical scenario by looking at the wide variety of hearts 
found in animals aHve today. Amphibians, reptiles, 
birds, and mammals have been foUovwng indepen- 
dent evolutionary paths for millions of years, of 
course, and no modern biologist would dare suggest 

that a frog or alligator is a step en route to an eagle 
or human being. However, comparing the hearts of 
living vertebrates — and specifically how they han- 
dle the transport of oxygen to the body's tissues 
(one of the organ's most important frinctions) — can 
provide insights into what the intermediate steps 
between one type of heart and another might be. 

We start with the heart found in most fish 
today: a relatively simple organ, with one atrium, 
from which blood flows into a single ventricle. 

After leaving the heart, blood picks up oxygen at 
the gills, but by the time the blood returns to the 
heart, most of its oxygen is gone. With the evolu- 
tion of lungs came a partial separation of oxy- 
genated from deoxygenated blood, ensuring a 
steady supply of oxygen to the heart and its more 
efficient distribution to the rest of the body. The 
division of the atrium into two chambers — evident 
in Uving lungfish — ^was an important step toward 
more complete separation. 

In the the heart of modern frogs and toads, we 
see the beginnings of distinct ventricular chambers 
as well. Although these animals have only one ven- 
tricle, its spongy walls help separate oxygenated and 
deoxygenated blood: oxygen-rich blood flowing in 
from the left atrium tends to get soaked up by the 
left ventricular wall; oxygen-poor blood from the 
right atrium is taken up by the right wall. When the 
amphibian ventricle contracts, it expels all the blood 
into a central artery, where the two flows are again 
kept largely separate by a long winding valve that 
spirals down the length of the artery, functionally 
dividing it into two channels. Most of the poorly 


oxygenated blood travels through the channel that 
leads toward the lungs and skin, where it picks up a 
fresh supply of oxygen (in amphibians, the skin also 
functions as a gas-exchange organ). Most of the 
oxygenated blood ends up in the channel that leads 
out to other tissues in the body, providing them 
with nourishment. Partial division of the ventricle 
can be seen in the lesser siren (Siren mtennediaj, a 
salamander with a ridge of muscle rising up from 
the floor of the ventricle. 

Division of the ventricle into more than one 
chamber is more complete in turdes, tortoises, and 
snakes. In addition to two atria, these reptiles have 
a three-chambered ventricle, however, and so don't 
fit neady on our hypothetical continuum. Enter 
the varanids, or monitor Hzards, a group that in- 
cludes the huge Komodo dragon of Indonesia. 
Like those of other reptiles, the varanids heart has a 
total of five chambers, but one of the ventricles is 
little more than a sniiill pathway for the blood that 
traverses the heart. There is still some mixing of 
oxygenated and deoxygenated blood from the 
other two, larger ventricular chambers but much 

y^ :. -.-.y: A?.;. 

64 EVOLUTION natural history 4/00 

less than occurs in the heart of a turtle or snake. 
The varanid heart introduces, for the first time, 
a way to deal with a vital but potentially dangerous 
component of the circulatory system: blood pres- 
sure. High blood pressure helps the heart pump 
harder to deliver more blood more quickly to 
working muscles and other tissues in the body. Un- 
fortunately, these same pressures can "blow out" 
the lung's delicate vessels, which operate most ef- 
fectively at lower blood pressures. With its two 
nearly separate ventricular chambers, the varanid 
heart can pump at two different pressures: low for 
blood to the lungs, high for blood heading out to 
the rest of the body. Perhaps not surprisingly, this 
efficient heart enables some of the monitor Hzards 
to be truly frightening predators, able to capture 
very active prey. 





Wc turn next to crocodiles and alligators, in 
which the heart has two anatomically separate ven- 
tricles. When breathing air at the waters surface, 
these reptiles, like monitor hzards, pump blood at 
two different pressures. Once they slip beneath the 
surface, however, they do not breathe, and their 
hearts produce a single, intermediate pressure. 
While underwater, crocodiles and alligators per- 
form another neat heart trick: blood that would 
have gone to their lungs (which become less usefial 
during a dive, as their o.xygen is depleted) is 
sliunted, via an extra aorta emerging from the right 
ventricle, back toward the general body circularion. 

In birds and mammals, the separation of the left 
and right sides of the heart is complete. This allows 
for high-pressure distribution of blood to the body, 
with no risk to deUcate lung membranes. (For div- 
ing birds and mammals, this is a mixed blessing. 
Whether resting on the beach or diving for food 
[when the lungs are not ventilated], a seal or pen- 
guin must pump the same amount of blood both to 
its lungs and to the rest of its body.) 

The next steps on our hypothetical continuum 
have yet to be determined. The human heart is no 
more the ultmiate in cardiac design than was that of 
reptiles before mammals evolved. Perhaps in the 
future, our descendants will inhabit other parts of 
the solar system. Could the vertebrate heart evolve 
to handle life on a planet with less gra\ity or less 
oxygen than we have on Earth? Or v^th more? If 
not, space colonizers \\t11 have no choice but to re- 
create Earth "s enviromnent wherever they go. 

Warrcii Burggren. a biologist, is dean of the College of 
Arts and Sciences at the University of North Texas. 

66 ECOLOGY natural history 4/00 

Story by Scott Mori 

Illustrations by Michael Rothman 


Most people think of Brazil nuts as the huge pointy things in a 
of mixed nuts. To a botanist, however, Brazil nuts represent 
only one species in a large and diverse famUy of flowering 
trees, the Lecythidaceae, which dominate some Amazonian 
rainforests. Several years ago in the central Brazilian 
Amazon, working in a plot that measured slightly less 
than half a square mile, my colleagues and I were able 
to identify some 7,800 plants belonging to 38 
species in the Brazil nut family. (During the 
same study, but in a smaller plot — the size of 
two and a half football fields — we found 
285 species of trees in numerous plant 
families. In Wisconsin, where I grew 
up, there are only 74 tree species in the 
entire state!) Brazil nut trees are symbols 
of the Amazonian forest, where, as 
Charles Darwin put it, plants and animals 
have evolved such varied and diverse 
forms as to throw a naturahst's mind into 
"a chaos of delight." 

As in the orchid family, which also 
dehghted Darwin, many species of the 
Brazil nut family have evolved flowers 
that are adapted to specific pollinators — 
mostly various kinds of bees. The 
trees' seeds are dispersed by birds, 
wild pigs, agoutis, bats, and monkeys, 
as well as by wind and water. We are 
just beginning to grasp the complexity 
of these relationships; unfortunately, 
our understanding comes at a time 
when tropical forests are threatened with 
destruction. Flower pollinators, seed- 
dispersing animals, and Brazil nut plants 
— all these organisms are part of the intricate 
living mosaic that is life in the Amazon. 


POLLINATORS OF TREES in the BrazU nut family include the female carpenter bee (Xylocopa 

frontalis), above, shown as she is about to enter the flower of a sapucaia tree. Proceeding 

headfirst into the blossom, the bee collects sterile pollen to feed her larvae. As she does 

so, she brushes against fertile pollen, picking it up on her head and back. When 

the bee flies to a distant tree, she will deposit this pollen on another 

flower's stigma. Opposite page: Orchid bees (Eulaema peruviana) visit an 

Eschweilera pedicellata, or mahot tree. For several months during the dry 

season, each flower cluster on the tree produces a single bright pink 

blossom daily. Once they have discovered a flowering tree, the bees 

return each day to gather nectar, visiting each cluster in rapid 

succession, apparently having memorized the locations of individual 

trees. Stamens in one area of the blossom are modified for producing 

the nectar sought by the bees; stamens in a second location produce 

fertile pollen that clings to the insects. A longitudinal cross section of a 

mo/iot flower, left, shows the bee's extraordinarily long probosds 

reaching around the flower's inner curves to the nectar while the insect 

receives a dusting of fertile pollen on its thorax and head. 

68 ECOLOGY natural history 4/00 



by gnawing through the fruit's hard, thick 
casings, the red-rumped agouti, left, 
seeks a meal. Although the fruit's woody 
casing may have evolved to protect the 
seeds from predation, its opening is too 
small to allow them to fall out. The tree 
therefore depends on animals to open the 
fruits. Agoutis feed on some of the seeds 
immediately and cache others for future 
consumption; uneaten seeds germinate 
about a year later. The brown capuchin 
monkey, a seed predator, can recognize 
which fruits are about to open on a 
Carim'ana micrantha tree, above. Tearing 
them from the stems, the monkey bangs 
them against thick branches to get at the 
small, nutritious seeds. Some fruits open 
on their own while still in the tree, 
releasing their seeds. Aided by winglike 
appendages, the seeds are carried away by 
the wind. 



TRAVELING BY AIR EXPRESS, a sapucaia seed is transported by 
Palla's spear-nosed bat, above. The seeds are attached to a durable fruit 
casing by a cord with a fleshy outgrowth, or aril, at its base that bats find 
appetizing. The bats may later drop the seeds or discard them while 
roosting far from the mother tree. Right: The flowering and fruiting of the 
"monkey's bailing cup" coincide with annual floods produced by the rising 
Amazon. When the cup-shaped fruits open, the seeds drop into the water 
and, buoyed by their corky coats, are carried by the current. 

70 MARINE BIOLOGY natural history 4/oo 

A mesmerizing repertoire of quick 
changes in skin color and texture 
qualifies cuttlefishes as masters of 
communication and disguise. 

M fleet of tiny creatures swim the length of a shallow 
^1 tank at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods 

1 Hole, Massachusetts, passing above yellow sand, 
then brown sand, then variegated pebbles, and finally a 
bed of white shells. These newly hatched animals, each 
no larger than a thumbnail, undergo instant and 
seemingly magical transformations as they travel 
the route, their skin color shifting from 
yellow to a tasteful khaki, to mottled ^» V 

black and white, to a uniform soft « * '; *. 

white. Protean masters of disguise, the * .• *"-' 

apogee of marine cryp.sis, these *»*..'»'■' , 

young creatures are cutdefishes, and '»'* ' ' ■ 

according to their devotees, we ,»*""• 

should be so luckv f^'" ''-^' 


Lanier is amon<r the manv 

that cuttlefishes seem to wear 

. *•.;.•■»' 


^n[iition cuttlefish 

ith Skin 

By Marguerite HoUoway 



72 MARINE BIOLOGY natural history ^/oo 




.--- .-^^ 


against the 
reef, a male 
S. plangon, 
above, hovers 
over the female 
in a classic 
"mate guarding" 
pose (Australia). 
Opposite page, 
top: A male 
S. pharaonis 
defends a female 
from another 
suitor (Thailand). 

their thoughts on their skin. "This is what virtual 
reality is about, the ability to directly express your 
images," he says with obvious envy. Indeed, he as- 
serts, the purpose of technology "is to turn people 
into cuttlefish." A single cuttlefish can become 
speckled, ocellate, stippled, Hneate, whorled, black, 
white, brown, gray, pink, red, iridescent — aU in dif- 
ferent combinations and all in less than a second. It 
can hold zebra stripes for hours or send waves of 
color flickering across its skin. It can make half its 
body white while the other half displays hnes. Its 
skin can pucker into riffles and spines and bumps, 
then suddenly go smooth as polished stone. And 
that's just the common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis); 
each of the hundred or so other species has its own 
repertoire of quick changes. 

Cuttlefishes — which, like snails and scallops, 
are mollusks — are highly advanced invertebrates, a 
distinction they share with several cephalopods, a 
class that includes squids and octopuses. But while 
cuttlefishes are closely related to these other ink- 
spurting, color-flexing creatures, they remain 

more mysterious, largely 
because they are for the 
most part so hard to 
observe in their natural 
habitats. Researchers 
have recently ventured 
into the field vwth night- 
vision video cameras 
and other high-tech 
equipment, but most of 
what we know about 
cuttlefishes still comes 
from the laboratory, 
where, often clustered together in tanks, these 
cephalopods — which are probably solitary by na- 
ture — continue to yield surprises. In the past few 
years, scientists have found that cuttlefishes can 
detect water motion in the same way that fishes 
do, that their large eyes (which have W-shaped 
pupils) can see polarized Hght, and that their re- 
productive behaviors and modes of communica- 
tion are quite complex. 

(Aittk-tishcs r.ini;c cnoriuously in size, troni 
tlie two-incli Mclascpia pli'(tcri to the tlircc-toot- 
liMii; Scpid apanta. But all have oii^ht arms and two 
tentacles, the Litter usually reniainini; retracted 
unless the cuttlefish is teeihng. Like other 
cephalopods, cuttlefishes seem to grow cjuickly, 
mate once, and then die: most live for no more 
than eighteen months. Like squids and octopuses, 
cuttlefishes have a funnel for jet propulsion, but 
unlike the other two, they also have an internal, 
oval-shaped bony chamber that fills with gas. The 
result is that, as well as being able to swim and 
sc]uirt backward and forward, they can gracefully 
hover, rise, and tall. 

Found 111 tropical .aid temperate oceans every- 
where except in the Americas, cuttlefishes favor 
mostly near-shore environments such as coral reefs, 
mangrove swamps, and fields ot sea grass and algae. 
Although they are an important source of food for 
many people, no data have been compiled on 
whether they have been endangered by overharvest- 
ing, and demand for them has been growing in Asia 
and the Mediterranean. Still, even if they can't al- 
ways escape nets, cuttlefishes can stay hidden from 
their other predators: sharks and teleosts (a range ot 
bony, jawed fishes). This ability probably evolved 
between 370 million and 190 million years ago, 
when teleosts began taking over coastal environ- 
ments and forcing some moUusks into deep water, 
where hydrostatic pressure made their shells cum- 
bersome. So the cephalopods (with the exception of 
the chambered nautilus) shed their shells and slowly 
moved back to compete with, and to avoid, the fish. 

The secret to cuttlefishes" capacity to fade into 
the background lies in several special t)'pes of mus- 
cle groups and cells: papillae, which allow the ani- 
mals to deform their skin so they can assume the 
texture of seaweed or a bumpy rock; chro- 
matophores, which contain pigment; and two kinds 
ot reflecting cells, iridophores and leucophores, 
which influence color. In the common cutdefish — 
the most extensively studied species because it is 
rather easily tound in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, 

An S. tatimanus, 
above, floats 
over coral (Bali). 
Another S. 
latimanus, right, 
raises its arms in 
defense (Papua 
New Guinea). 

A single 
can send 
waves of 
across its 
surfaces. Or 
pucker its 
skin into 
spines and 

suddenly go 
smooth as 

74 MARINE BIOLOGY natural history a/oo 

An S. pharaonis, 
below, raises its 
arms combatively 
(Thailand). A 
range of color 
and texture 
can be seen in 
two photographs 
of Metasepia 
opposite page. 

the English Channel, and the Mediterranean Sea — 
the chromatophores are yellow, red, orange, and 
dark brown to black, with a density of about 30,000 
per square inch. The muscles around these sacs of 
pigment expand or contract in response to "mes- 
sages" from the brain as it processes visual informa- 
tion. This neural control allows cuttlefishes and 
other cephalopods to transform their appearance 
rapidly; chameleons, on the other hand, control 
coloration through hormones traveling in the 
blood — a much slower process. 

Iridophores are made of stacks of very thin lay- 
ers of chitin that diffract (cause interference patterns 
in) light, giving rise to shimmering blues, greens, 
and silvers. Recent research by Roger T Hanlon, 
of the Marine Biological Laboratory, suggests that 
iridophores also may be under indirect neural con- 
trol, through the action of the neurotransmitter 
acetylchohne. Leucophores, found in some cuttle- 

fish species, some octopuses, and in one type of 
squid, are fiat, branched cells that, like sequins, re- 
flect all colors. 

The mesmerizing array of hues and patterns re- 
sulting from these specialized cells is important not 
only for hiding but for communication. Cuttlefishes, 
as well as squids and octopuses, have a rich repertoire 
of signals for defense, hunting, reproduction, and 
warning — and perhaps for types of communication 
not yet understood. In S. officinalis, for instance, the 
so-called Intense Zebra display warns other males to 
stay away. This and other dermal changes are often 
accompanied by a complex set of postures and arm 
movements. Hanlon and his colleague John B. Mes- 
senger, of the University of Sheffield in England, 
have described fifiy-four components of the com- 
mon cutdefish's "vocabulary," including such pos- 
tures as Drooping Arms, Flanged Fin, Wrinkled First 
Arms, and Extended Fourth Arm. 

DcciplKTing tins viK alnil.iry been chal- 
k-ngiiig — and has just bcLonic more so. Watching 
fenialc cuttlefishes choose mates, Jean (I. Boal, ot 
the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) 
at Calveston, recently discovered that they shied 

away from males making aggressive Zebra dis- 
plays. Instead, the females seemed interested in 
males that had just mated, which suggests that the 
females were responding to a chemical cue from 
the male. Sure enough, Boal and Sherry Painter, 
also at UTMB, found that cuttlefishes recognized 
a pheromone that Painter had recendy isolated 

from a marine snail, a cephalopod relative. "Mol- 
lusks, in general, use pheromones to coordinate 
their behavior because they are not all that mo- 
bile," explains Boal. "It serves as a communicator 
over much longer distances than visual signals 
could ever work." 

Boal's studies have also revealed that cuttlefishes 
cannot recognize each other individually. But, she 
explains, the lack of recognition works perfectly for 
them. If, say, a male encounters another male and 
responds aggressively, he'll repeat the behavior after 
swimming around the tank and bumping into the 
same male a minute later. "I talked to many people 
who were very disappointed: 'Oh, cutdefish are 
stupid, huh?' " Boal recalls, laughing. Cutdefishes 
probably live far apart in the wild, except when 
they gather en masse to mate, so they have no real 
need to recognize individuals: "If two males have a 
fight," says Boal, "the loser can leave and is not 
likely to bump up against that 
male again. He has a whole 
blooming ocean out there." 
And because cuttlefishes, like 
almost all cephalopods, die be- 
fore their eggs have hatched, 
there is no reason for them to 
recognize their young. 

The question of intelligence 
is what attracted Boal to cut- 
tlefishes in the first place. "No 
matter how you measure it," 
she points out, "their brain is 
larger than an octopus brain." 
Her current experiments on 
learning suggest that both 
cephalopods do well with spa- 
dal learning; cutdefishes seem 
to learn their way around a 
maze with the same facility" as 
octopuses. Such sav\y comes 
as no surprise to cuttlefish afi- 
cionados, who can sit en- 
tranced in front ot a tank tor 
hours, feeling the creature's 
curiosity or (making al- 
lowances for the perils of anthropomorphism) 
what seems to be its passing interest in the human 
observer. "I think that's part of the allure of cuttle- 
fish," says John W. Forsythe, a biologist at 
UTMB's National Resource Center for Cephalo- 
pods in Galveston, a sort of Cuttlefish Central that 
supplies the animals to aquariums and researchers 

Slowly its 

toward a 
until, with 
speed, they 
shoot out to 
their full 
extent and 
grab the 

An S. latimanus, 
above, is quite 
unruffled by an 
diver (Bali). 
W-shaped pupils 
probably allow 
them to see 
forward and 
backward at the 
same time. 

all over the world. "They're really interactive. 
They're looking at you as much as you're looking 
at them." Forsythe, who has been tending cuttle- 
fishes for about twenty years, recently moved a 
few Sepia pharaonis from the Red Sea and the In- 
dian Ocean to the Galveston center. Swimming 
around in a tank, each pharaonis flashes a thin blue 
iridescent band marking the edge of the fm that 
encircles its body. "Officinalis can't do that," 
Forsythe sighs. 

The reverie is broken. It's feeding time in Gal- 
veston. As Forsythe begins to toss large frozen 
shrimp into the tank, a pliamonis swims forward, its 
eight arms all touching one another so that they 
look almost hke an elephant's trunk. Slowly its two 
tentacles appear, stretching almost lazily toward a 
shrimp until, with staggering speed, they shoot out 

to their fuU extent and grab the prey, pulling it back 
into a beaked mouth. Another pharaonis flashes 
bright yellow for an instant; that's a color Forsythe 
hasn't seen before in this species. Mealtime contin- 
ues fast and furious; the tank is clean within min- 
utes. "They're the most awesome predators. I'm 
very thankful they don't get to be six feet," says 
Forsythe, adding that if crabs had been on the 
menu, the waters would have roiled. "They're the 
master crab destroyers of the universe." 

Cuttlefishes are indeed perfectly honed hunters. 
Everything about their physiology enhances their 
search for shrimp, crabs, and fish; their huge eyes, 
for instance, are as sophisticated as those of verte- 
brates. Although they seem unable to see in color 
(unlike most of the fishes that feed on them), their 
eyes can detect polarized light, allowing them to 
easily locate transparent or camouflaged prey. Thir- 
teen or fourteen muscles control their eyes, while 
humans' eyes are controlled by only six muscles and 
octopuses' by seven. The extra muscles allow cut- 
tlefishes to see pretty much everything, because 
they can move their eyes to compensate for the po- 
sition of their bodies and can cause their lines of vi- 
sion to converge for optimal perception of depth. 
Why they have W-shaped pupils remains a mystery, 
however; Forsythe suspects it allows them to see 
backward and forward at the same time. 

Cuttlefishes can sense movement in other ways 
as well. Bernd U. Budelmann, of UTMB's Marine 
Biomedical Institute, has determined that cuttle- 
fishes have tiny hair cells that detect the directional 
flow of water, enabHng them to sense and interpret 
changes in currents or water movement up to sixty 
feet away. And they are also outfitted with statocysts 
(organs similar to the vestibular structure, or inner 
ear, in vertebrates), which allow them to maintain 
orientation. So whether they're swimming forward, 
jetting in reverse, or just hovering, cuttlefishes can 
figure out which way is up. "They're hke cats — 
built to right themselves," explains Forsythe. And 
then, with some of the fervor that cuttlefishes seem 
to evoke, he blurts out, "They're so cool!" 

Every day Forsythe gets e-mails from people 
obsessed with these animals, people who want a 
cuttlefish as a pet so that they can sit and stare 
into its mesmerizing eyes and commune with a 
creature that can project the workings of its col- 
orful mind. Jaron Lanier may be right. The day 
may come when we catch up with the mollusks 
and can make our skin dance with the patterns of 
our thoughts. D 


Australia's Rock Stars 

For the giant cutttefish of southern Austrah'a, 
Spencer Gulf is the place to spawn. 

By Simon Foale and Mark Norman 

From April to |iily ot most years, tlic nortliwest coast of 
Spencer CUilf in the state of South AustraHa is the setting 
for one ot the most colorful and vibrant biological events: 
the spawning of Sepia apania, the giant cuttlefish. These 
animals, which measure up to three feet, can be found 
along the entire south coast of Australia. But the greatest 
concentration (as many as thousands per acre) is found 
only on the few rocky reets between the industrial port of 
Whyalla and Point Lowly, ten miles northeast. This dis- 
tinction may be related to the scarcit\' of rocky seafloor 

teen feet of land, where the water is as shallow as six feet. 
Because sites for laying eggs may be limited, males often 
rove from boulder to boulder in search of a good spot that 
isn't already being used. Having found one, the males can 
then court females that come looking for a place to lay 
their eggs. Males compete for females by swimming along- 
side their opponents and trying to make themselves look as 
large and frightening as possible. They flare out their or- 
nately decorated arms, which bear bannerlike webs, and 
also produce a mesmerizing pattern — an inverted V ot 
black stripes in constant motion^ 
on the side ot the body tacing their 
rival. When rival males are unevenly 
matched in size, the smaller one in- 
variably swims away before too 
long. If thev are evenly matched, 
however, the showdown can some- 
times escalate into violence; most 

A male giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama), left, swims out to meet the challenge of another male. Right: Another giant cuttlefish 
decks itself out in camouflage. 

elsewhere in the gulf — a circumstance that forces the cut- 
tlefish to congregate on the shallow reefs close to shore, 
where the undersides ot large boulders afford the females 
suitable surfaces on which to lay their eggs. 

The gripping choreography ot cuttlefish combat, 
courting, and copulation can be observed within about tif- 

individuals sport the e\ddence of past brawls, such as bite 
marks, missing tentacles, and scratches and scars of vai-)-ing 
severity. In any case, the winner gets the female. 

Giant cuttlefish copulate head to head, with the male 
using the tip of an .u'ln to n-ansfer a spermatophore (sperm 
packet) to a pouch under the females mouth. Many males 

78 [marine biology natural history 4/oo 

Mating takes place head to head. The male, right, transfers sperm 
the female's mouth, having first attempted to hose out the sperm 

first attempt to displace previous suitors' spermatophores by 
vigorously squirting jets of water into the female's pouch, 
using the funnel they normally employ for jet propulsion — in 
effect, hosing out their competitors' sperm. The females lay 
the spindle-shaped, marble-sized eggs one by one, and each is 
fertilized by being passed over the pouch of spermatophores 
under her mouth. The spermatophores that fertilize the eggs 
are the ones closest to the outside — that is, those from the 
most recent mating. This explains the practice of "mate 
guarding": after copulation, the male maintains a close watch 
over the female as she lays the eggs that have been fertilized by 
his sperm, and he vigorously tries to fend off the frequent, if 
not constant, challenges from numerous sources. 

Every now and then, however, 
much smaller males manage — 
through stealth and disguise — to 
mate with females. By pulling in 
their arms and bannerhke webs and 
taking on a mottled coloration, they 
achieve a typically female appear- 
ance. These small males may even 
approach females that are guarded by 
large males. Seemingly cued to the 
aggressive visual displays of sizable 
competitors, a large guarding male 
wiU readily accept the approaches of 
an apparent female. Then, when the 
guard is busy fending off some other 
big brute, the small "sneaker" male 
makes his move to mate with the fe- 
male. The small male's disguise ap- 
pears to work even during mating; 
large males have been observed to 
tolerate copulations between a fe- 
male they're guarding and a sneaker 
male dressed up as a female. 
During the three-month breeding season, a female can 
lay several hundred eggs in a number of separate clutches. 
Before laying them on the undersides of boulders or in 
crevices — away from currents and large predators — she 
uses her arms to draw the eggs out of their gill cavity and 
pass them under her mouth to fertilize them. With her 
head in a crevice and the rest of her body protruding into 
the open, the female may produce a pair of large black 
eyespots on the back of her mande: possibly a deterrent to 
would-be predators. Egg laying is a hazardous business. 
Each egg is glued to the boulder individually, and eggs are 
frequently caught on the spines of urchins, which take 
shelter in large numbers on the undersides of boulders and 

to a pouch under 
of previous suitors. 

Eggs are laid as far from predators as possible. Freshly laid 
eggs, above, are glued to the roof of a small cave. 

After about five months, the eggs hatch. A newly hatched 
giant cuttlefish swims past the egg of an unhatched sibling. 

Eggs can catch on the spines of urchins sheltering under the 
same boulders used by the giant cuttlefish. 

A giant cuttlefish tries to grab a fishing line with its 
tentacles, which have pads of strong suckers on their tips. 

are among the many predators known to feed on the eggs. 
Wlien the female 5. apaiiia is not laying eggs, she and her 
guard can be seen close to their boulder, with the male 
usually hovering a little above his mate. Even then, chal- 
lengers often attempt to get to the female by using their 
tentacles to "scoop" the male up and away from her. 
About five months after being laid, the eggs hatch into 
free-swimming, miniature cutdefish; 
by then, the adults will have long 
since dispersed or died. 

Recent interest in fishing for 
Spencer Gults giant cutdetish may 
threaten the spawning aggregations. 
For many years, a small number of 
giant cutdefish (10 tons" worth a 
year) were harvested for use as bait, 
without apparent impact on the 
spawning popularion. In 1996, how- 
ever, a new Asian market for cuttle- 
fish was discovered, and tlshing ef- 
forts exploded. More than 2(10 tons 
were taken in the 1997 season alone. 
After lobbying by local divers and 
conservarionists, the South Australian 
state government placed a temporars' 
ban (for 1998) on fishing for these 
animals in the gulf Catches at the 
start ot die 1999 season were so low 
that the fisheiy was quickly closed to 
protect remaining stock. In advance 
of the 2(100 season, fisheries scientists 
released research findings that sup- 
port permanent closure of the region 
to fishing. The fate of the giant cut- 
defish now lies in the hands of politi- 
cians and other decision makers. 

Simon Foalc studies the itidigetious use ofinaritie resources and the 
ecology of target species. Much of his time has been spent in the 
tropical Pacific; he is currently a research scientist in the Solomon 
Islands for the World IVildlite Fund. Mark Xorman. a research 
fellow at the University ofMclhoitruc, has studied cephalopod di- 
versity, evolution, and behavior for many years, in the course of 
which he has discovered more than 150 new species of octopus. 

Giant cuttlefish are voracious predators, feeding on a variety of fish and crustaceans. 
Dinner, on this occasion, is a rock crab. 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 4/00 

{Continued from page 38) 
forms of authority or seek certain 
forms of knowledge — injunctions that 
cannot be congenial to any scientist.) 

Similarly, no statement in Genesis 1 
speaks about inequality between the 
sexes, but Adam uses Eve's status as 
both subsequent and partial to hint at 
such a claim in Genesis 2: "And Adam 

After all, we read the 
Bible as a source of 
moral debate and 
instruction, not as a 
treatise in natural history. 

said. This is now bone of my bones, 
and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called 
Woman, because she was taken out of 
Man" (Gen. 2:23). 

Haydn's text divides the creation 
myth of Genesis 1 into three sensible 
and dramatic units. We usually view 
the six-day sequence as a story of suc- 
cessive additions, but I think that such 
a reading seriously mistakes the form 
of this particular tale. Creation myths, 
based on limits to both our mental 
powers and the structural possibilities 
of material objects, can "go" in only a 
few basic ways, and Genesis 1 invokes 
the primary theme of successive differ- 
entiation from initial chaos, not se- 
quential addition. The universe begins 
in undefined confusion ("without 
form and void"). God then constructs 
a series of separations and consolida- 
tions to mark the first four days. On 
Day 1, he divides hght from darkness. 
Haydn's amazing overture violates 
many contemporaneous musical tradi- 
tions of tonality and structure to depict 
this initial chaos. The composer then, 
at the end of the first chorus, describes 
the creation of light with a device both 
amazingly simple and (to this day) star- 
thngly evocative: a series of crashing 
chords in bright and utterly unsophis- 
ticated C major. (A virtual cliche 

among statements in the history of 
classical music designates this pas- 
sage — but so truly — as the most stun- 
ningly effective set of C-major chords 
ever written.) 

On Day 2, God divides the Earth 
firom the heavens; on Day 3, Earth's 
water from Earth's land (also allowing 
the land to bring forth plants). On Day 
4, he returns to the heavens to concen- 
trate the diffuse Ught into two great 
sources, the Sun and the Moon ("he 
made the stars also," as an after- 
thought) . Soloists describe the work of 
each day, and each sequence then fin- 
ishes with a wonderful chorus. Part 1 

tion He as much in the Httle foibles as 
in the grand overarchings. Haydn 
shows this bumptious and quotidian 
side of totaHty in describing the cre- 
ation of animals. First, the soprano 
soloist, in a charming and idyUic aria, 
describes the birds — the noble eagle, 
the merry lark, the cooing dove, and 
the nightingale, who has not yet 
learned (but, alas, soon wiU) to sing an 
unhappy note: "No grief affected yet 
her breast, nor to a mournful tale were 
tuned her soft, enchanting lays." The 
bass soloist, alternating between the 
bucoHc and the simply fimny, then de- 
scribes the tawny lion, the flexible 

Separation of Land from the Water, by Raphael, 16th century 

therefore ends with Haydn's most fa- 
mous text and tune, "The heavens are 
telling the glory of God" — the heav- 
ens, that is, because no animals have 
yet been formed! 

Part 2 describes the work of Days 5 
and 6, the creation of animals: crea- 
tures of the water and air on Day 5 and 
of the Earth, including humans, on 
Day 6. Soloists and chorus alternate as 
in Part 1. Haydn's music exudes 
beauty, power, and exultation, but he 
also describes whimsical, earthy, and 
ordinary events — a combination that 
captures the essence of the humanistic 
(or should I say naturalistic) spirit by 
acknowledging that glory and fascina- 

tiger, the nimble stag, and finally, "in 
long dimension creeps, with sinuous 
trace, the worm" (usually ending, if 
the bass soloist can, and ours could, on 
a low D — actually set an octave higher 
by Haydn but taken down by soloists as 
a traditional bass Ucense corresponding 
to those annoying high Cs that tenors 
forever interpolate). 

The shorter Part 3 then uses Mil- 
ton's style (if not exactly his words) for 
two long and rapturous duets between 
Adam and Eve, interlaced with choral 
praises and culminating in a paean of 
thanks and a final musical device that 
always thrills me as a singer (and, I 
hope, pleases the audience as well). 



Bob and Marie Bergh love lo travel. Since their first 
trip with the Museum in the early 1980"s, they have 
participated in eight Discovery Tours, to destinations as 
diverse as the British isles, the Black Sea, Scandina\ ia. 
the Caribbean. Greenland, Antarctica, the North Pole, the 
Middle East, hidia and Southeast Asia. 

Exploring the world on Discovery Tours, Bob and 
Marie have become increasingly aware of the significance 
of the Museum's work. This is why ihey recently decided 
to provide for the Museum's future through a Charitable 
Gift Annuity. 

"We wanted to give to the Museum, especially because 
of what the Museum gives to children and young adults. 
We wanted to foster that and also give something to our- 
selves. With a Gift Annuity, we could help the Museum 
and add to our income." 

A Gift Annuity is a way to support the Museum and provide lifetime income to one or two people. 
When low-yield stock is used to fund the plan, capital gains tax is avoided. Marie offers a tip to 
Natural History readers: "We learned about the Museum 's Gift Annuity program through this magazine, 
and we encourage you to find out about it, too!" Here are the sample rates and benefits for one person 
with a $10,000 gift: 





Annuity Payment 

























For more information, please call (800) 453-5734 or reply by mail to: Office of Planned Giving, American 
Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, New York 10024-5192 

Please send information on: 

Gifts that provide lifetime income. 

Bequests to the Museum in my will. 

1 have already included a provision for the Museum in my estate plans. 




My (our) birth date(s) is (are):_ 


Your reply is confidential and implies no obligation. 



THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 4/00 

The final expostulation of joy for the 
glorious diversity of the Earth and its 
life — "praise the Lord, utter thanks, 
Amen" — runs twice, first as an alter- 
nation of passages for a quartet of 
soloists and the fuU chorus, and then, 
even louder, for the fuU chorus alone. 
This acceleration or promotion — 
more an emotional device than a 
compositional beauty per se, but mas- 
tery of such devices also marks a com- 
poser's skill — always leaves me feeling 
that we should mount even higher, 

over nature: "And God said. Let us 
make man in our image, after our like- 
ness; and let them have dominion over 
the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of 
the air, and over the cattle, and over all 
the earth, and over every creeping 
thing that creepeth upon the earth. . . . 
And God blessed them, and God said 
unto them. Be firuitfiil, and multiply, 
and replenish the earth, and subdue it" 
(Gen. 1:26,28). 

Instead, following the creation of 
land animals, Haydn's text, in a non- 

architectural task (far exceeding the ac- 
complishments of Fasolt and Fafiier in 
building Valhalla). Not a single item in 
his creation has enough mental power 
to appreciate the beauty and glory of 
these optimal surroundings. God just 
has to make men and women so that 
some creature can know and praise the 
grandeur of existence. And so, the 
angel Raphael, having just hit his low 
D to celebrate the sinuous worm, ex- 
claims: "But aU the work was not com- 
plete; there wanted yet that wondrous 

Creation of the Stars and Planets, from the Sistine Ceiling, by Michelangelo, 16th century 

thus allowing the performance to re- 
verberate beyond its formal ending 
(which can only be deemed quite 
grand enough already!). 

Haydn's text represents a great doc- 
ument of optimism and humanism, as 
much for its omissions as for its inclu- 
sions. Interestingly, although nearly the 
entire text of Genesis 1 enters the nar- 
rative, one long passage has been con- 
spicuously (and, I assume, consciously) 
omitted — the set of "objectionable" 
(to me, at least) statements about di- 
vinelv ordained human domination 

bibUcal interpolation, suggests an en- 
tirely different reason for the creation 
of men and women. In Genesis 1, God 
fashions us to have dominion over 
everything else. But in Haydn's text, 
the world needs us simply because 
God's noble efforts remain unfulfilled 
if the great work must end with the 
tawny lion and the sinuous worm. In 
nearly six full days of hard labor, God 
has stuffed the Earth with a glorious 
series of diverse and wonderful objects. 
But he then realizes that one omission 
precludes the fulfillment of his greatest 

being; that, grateful, could God's 
power admire, with heart and voice his 
goodness praise." 

I don't want to make either this 
recitation or Haydn's text sound too 
saccharine or devoid of complexity. 
The humanistic tradition does not deny 
the dark side but rather chooses to use 
these themes as warnings for potential 
correction rather than as statements 
about innate depravity. Thus, Haydn 
does not entirely neglect the common 
biblical subject (so prominent in Gene- 
sis 2) of the dangers inherent in know- 

iiiu; loo iirilIi. but he ccrt.iinly reduces 
I lie point to a bare reminder. Just he- 
lore tlie final chorus, tlie tenor soloist 
Mu^s .1 quick passage in the least impas- 
sioned narrational st^'le of "dry recita- 
ti\e" (with only keyboard and con- 
tinuo as accompaniment): "O happy 
pair and happy still might be if not mis- 
led by talse conceit, ye strive at more 
tlian is granted and desire to know 
more than you should know." Modern 
listeners might also be discomfited by 
Iac's promises of obedience to Adam 
111 their second duet (from Milton, not 
tiom Genesis 1), even though her in- 
spiration follows Adam's promise to 
"pour new delights" and "show won- 
ders everywhere" with every step they 
take together upon this newly created 
world. We can't, after all, impose the 
sensibilities of 2000 upon 179S. And 
who would want to defend 2000 be- 
lore any truly just court of universal 

But while we identify Haydn's text 
IS a creation myth in the most expan- 
si\e and optimistic spirit of love and 
wonder for all works of Earth and lite, 
we must also confront a historical puz- 
zle. Haydn began his work in 1796, 
and the first pubhc performance took 
place in 1 799 (with Haydn conducting 
and none other than Antonio Salieri, 
the much and unfairly maligned villain 
otAmadcHS. at the fortepiano). Such an 
expansively optimistic text seems en- 
tirely out of keeping with the conserv- 
ative gloom that spread throughout 
Europe after the excesses ot the French 
Revolution, culminating in the guillo- 
tining of the gihllotiner Robespierre in 
1794. Moreover, the spread of the Ro- 
mantic movement in music and art, for 
all its virtues, scarcely sanctioned such 
old-fashioned joy in the objective ma- 
terial world. 

The apparent solution to this prob- 
lem includes an interesting twist. 
Haydn wrote Tlie Creation as a result of 
inspiration received during trips to 
London, particularly in 1791, when he 
heard (and felt overwhelmed by) the 



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power of Handel's oratorios. This 
source has always been recognized, and 
the pleasure of singing Tlie Creation Kes 
at least partly in the wonderful Han- 
delian anachronism included amidst 
the lush Classical and near-Romantic 
orchestration. But Handel's posthu- 
mous influence may have run far 
deeper. The source of Haydn's text has 
always presented a mystery. Who 
wrote it, and how did Haydn obtain 
the goods and the rights? (We know 
that Haydn's friend Baron Gottfried 
van Swieten translated the text into 
German from an EngUsh original, but 
whence the original?) The latest schol- 
arship indicates that the text may have 
been originally written for Handel 
more than forty years earlier (Handel 
died in 1759) but never set by the 
greatest master of the oratorio and 
therefore still available for Haydn two 
generations later. 

Such an earHer source would solve 
all problems of content, for if Haydn's 
libretto really dates from the 1740s or 
1750s, then all incongruities disappear. 
The text becomes a document com- 
posed during the heart of the Enlight- 
enment, an intellectual and artistic 
movement that embodied all the opti- 
mism of the age, all the pleasure in na- 
ture's beauty, aU the faith that a combi- 
nation of human reason and moral 
potential might ensure both goodness 
and justice. The text of 77?e Creation 
reflects this hopeful world, when Lin- 
naeus worked in Uppsala, classifying all 
plants and animals for the glory of God 
and the knowledge of men, while Ben 
Frankhn promoted the virtues of fire 
departments, pubhc Hbraries, and uni- 
versities in Philadelphia. The Enlight- 
enment may have veered toward 
naivete in its optimism about human 
and worldly possibilities, but the goals 
stiU seem attainable, and we will never 
get there if we lose the hope and spirit. 
Ya gotta beheve. 

The difficulty of this task (so well 
epitomized, in some great words of an- 
other famous Enlightenment thinker. 

as the realization, for all people, of our 
inalienable rights of "life, liberty, and 
the pursuit of happiness") requires that 
all facets of human achievement be 
mobiLized in the great work. We will 
surely need the benefits of science, if 
only to feed and keep healthy all the 
people that science has permitted us to 
rear to adulthood. We will also need, 
and with equal force, the moral guid- 
ance and ennobHng capacities of reh- 
gion, the humanities, and the arts, for 
otherwise the dark side of our person- 
alities will win, and humanity may 
perish in war and recrimination on a 
bUghted planet. 

Art and science provide different 
and legitimate takes on the same set of 

"There is grandeur in 
this view of life," wrote 
Darwin. And as 
Haydn said, "The 
heavens are telling the 
glory of God." 

saving subjects, and we need both ap- 
proaches. Thus, as a scientist who has 
devoted an entire career to the study of 
evolution (but who also fancies himself 
a serious and competent avocational 
choral singer and not just an occasional 
duffer at a Saturday-night piano bar), I 
see no contradiction, but only har- 
mony, in integrating the final Une from 
a great work of science (a statement 
that Darwin chose to make in personal 
terms of poetic awe) with Haydn's in- 
spirational choral work based on an 
Enlightenment version of a creation 
myth that seems to employ (in its dif- 
ferent way) the same subject of Dar- 
win's scientific studies. The factual 
truth of evolution cannot conflict with 
the search for meaning embodied in a 
good creation myth. "There is 
grandeur in this view of Hfe," Darwin 
wrote. And as Haydn said, "The heav- 
ens are telling the glory of God." 

The task before us remains so 
daunting that we need to find tools 
even beyond the integration of science, 
morality, and the other separate 
patches that construct what I hke to 
designate as the coat of many colors 
called wisdom. We also need symbols 
to intensify and epitomize this grand 
effort that must ultimately lead us all to 
hang together or to hang separately (a 
great pun by the Enlightened Mr. 
Franklin). Given my propensities and 
procHvities, I do not know how, in this 
symboHc sense, I could have spent the 
inception of the millennium in a more 
meaningful way. And so, Mrs. Ponti, 
my truly beloved fifth-grade teacher, I 
dedicate this version of "what I did on 
my . . ."to your memory and to the 
inspiration that you so freely provided 
with your dedication and skill. 

I consecrated the day that symbol- 
ized the end of history to the opposite 
service of praising its optimistic begin- 
nings, by joining a group of colleagues 
who had worked long and hard to pre- 
pare a performance of the greatest mu- 
sical work ever written about the joyfial 
and glorious inception of an order that 
can end (on our time scale) only if we 
fail to unite the spirits of Darwin and 
Haydn, thereby potentiating aU the sav- 
ing graces of our nature. We express 
this union in many ways. The closing 
words of Genesis 1 do not represent my 
personal choice, but who can doubt 
the nobility of the sentiments, and 
what person of goodwill can fail to be 
horrified by the prospect (and therefore 
be inspired to devote some personal ef- 
fort toward prevention) that one species 
might eviscerate something so wonder- 
fiil that we did not create and that was 
not fashioned for us? "And God saw 
every thing that he had made, and, be- 
hold, it was very good." 

Stephen Jay Gould teaches biology, geology, 
and the history of science at Harvard Uni- 
versity. He is also Frederick P. Rose Hon- 
orary Curator in Invertebrates at the Amer- 
ican Museum of Natural History. 



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88 WATURAL SELECTIONS natural history 4/oo 

Archaeological excavation of an 
Indian burial mound in the 
Mississippi valley 


By Dougias Preston 

Anthropology and American Ancestry 

New controversies have opened old v^ounds over how scientists have 
historically treated Native Americans. 

In July 1996 two young men wad- 
ing through the shallows along the 
Columbia River near Kennewick, 
Washington, stumbled across a skull 
partly buried in the sand. Thinking it 
was that of a murder victim, they 
called the poUce. A forensic anthropol- 
ogist named James Chatters concluded 
that the skuU looked Caucasoid. After 
an almost complete skeleton had been 
collected, radiocarbon dating indicated 
that it was more than 9,000 years old 
and thus one of the oldest and most 
complete skeletons ever found in the 
New World. As a result, under the Na- 
tive American Graves Protection and 
Repatriation Act of 1990, the U.S. 
government seized the bones and was 
planning to turn them over to a coali- 
tion of local Indian tribes. The Indians, 
believing that scientific study of the re- 
nins was an act of sacrilege, said they 
v.ciuld bury the skeleton where no sci- 

entist would ever fmd it. A group of 
distinguished anthropologists, seeking 
the opportunity to study the bones and 
analyze the so-called Caucasoid fea- 
tures of the skull, sued. "So began the 
furious controversy over Kennewick 
Man," David Hurst Thomas writes in 
his remarkable and groundbreaking 
book Skull Wars. 

The Kennewick controversy pro- 
vides an apt introduction for SkuU 
Wars, because it embodies all the con- 
tradictions and passions generated by 
anthropologists' efforts to unravel the 
Native American past of our conti- 
nent. This highly readable history ot 
American anthropology is proof that a 
work of scientific scholarship can be 
set forth in straightforward, elegant 
English prose, free of jargon. As a 
founding trustee of the National Mu- 
seum of the American Indian, a mem- 
ber of the National Academy of Sci- 

ences, and a former chairman (now a 
curator) of the anthropology depart- 
ment at the American Museum of Nat- 
ural History, David Hurst Thomas was 
well positioned to write this book. 

This is no dusty history. The author 
tells stories of grave robbing in the dead 
of night, of researchers decapitating In- 
dians after battles in order to send their 
heads back to museums for study, of the 
elevation of scientific materialism 
above people s deepest religious values. 
He recounts tales of anthropologists 
who collected hving people for study, 
as his own museum did a century ago, 
with six Eskimos from Greenland. 

The book's foreword is written by 
Vine Deloria Jr., a Standing Rock 
Sioux activist and educator, who says 
that his "rage was almost incandescent" 
as he read Thomas's manuscript about 
what had been done to Indian people 
in the name of science. The choice of 

By Robert Anderson 

Dcloria to write tlic foreword may 
seem odd, siiiee lie rejects tlie central 
tenet of American anthropoloiiy — tliat 
liuman heini;s migrated from tlie Old 
World to the New. Yet givmi; 1 )eloria 
the opportunity to speak is wry iiiiich 
in keeping with Thomas's goal, vvhicii 
IS to present both sides fairly. On the 

Do we have a model tor how ar- 
chaeologists and Native Americans can 
work together? According to Thomas, 
we do; a project in southeastern 
Alaska's Tongass National Forest, where 
archaeologists and spelunkers have 
been mapping and excavating the hun- 
dreds of caverns and fissures in the 

otiier hand, he's no wimp. He states his limestone bedrock of Prince of Wiiles 
own views forceflilly, and some Indian 
activists, including Deloria himself, 
come in for pointed criticism. 

Stiiill War.': is iiuicli iiioiv ,i 
litany of scientihc injustices. Thomas 
recounts, tor example, how American 
anthropologists led the way both in de- 
bunking racist theories 
that "ranked" human 
beings and in develop- 
ing the powerful idea 
that all cultures — even 
the so-called primitive 
ones — are equally com- 
plex and important. Al- 
though U.S. anthropologists dici much 
to save and protect Native American 
cultures and peoples, their record is 
mixed; Franz Boas, often called the fa- 

SkuU Wars: Kennewick 
Man, Archaeology and the 
Battle for Native Ameri- 
can Identity, by David 

Hurst iiwiiuu. 
$25; 350 pp. 

Island. In 1993 Terry Fifield, the is- 
land's USDA Forest Service archaeolo- 
gist, joined the team; he soon moved to 
Klawock, one of the eleven local Haida 
and Tlingit villages, and regularly at- 
tended the council meetings, making a 
point of sharing news of discoveries. 
The first finds — 
41,60()-year-old bear 
bones and 17,565-year- 
old seal bones — dated 
back to the "very peak 
of the Ice Age." When 
researchers found hu- 
man remains in the 
same caverns, Fifield immediately 
asked the advice of tribal elders. Alter 
much discussion, writes Thomas, "they 
finally agreed that the potential increase 

Basic Books 

ther ot American anthropology, robbed in knowledge about their oldest ances- 

j Indian graves but also denounced his tors overwhelmed all other concerns." 

discipline's embrace of racial determin- Subsequent radiocarbon dating of the 

ism. Smithsonian anthropologist Frank bones and tools proved that they were 

Hamilton Gushing pushed his way into as old as Kennewick Man and of im- 

the Zuni Indians' sacred ceremonies but mense value to archaeology, 
also fought passionately for the rights of The Tongass remains were discov- 

the Zuni against those who were trying ered at the same time as Kennewick 

to steal their land and water. 

The battle over Kennewick Man 
marks another chapter in the some- 
times bitter history of relations be- 
tween anthropologists and American 
Indians. Using this fracas as an example 
oi how not to practice archaeology, 
Thomas makes an eloquent plea to heal 
the breach; "If archaeologists — of all 
people — can draw some lessons from 
the past," he writes, "perhaps we can 
rediscover a more human side to our 
science and come to value once again 
the importance of face-to-face rela- 
tionships with those whose ancestors 
we wish to studv." 

Man. Today the Kennewick bones are 
mired in controversy and legal maneu- 
vering, while the Tongass bones have 
been quietly and intensively studied, 
yielding a trove of information. As 
Thomas proposes, "One of these cases 
may well define the future (if any) of 
twenty-first century archaeology. The 
question is; Which one?" 

Douglas Preston, a /cinnci- colmniiist for 
Natural History, has written about Ken- 
newick Man for the New Yorker. His most 
recent novel, Thunderhead. coaiithored 
with Lincohi Child, is about an archaeologi- 
cal expedition to a legendary site in Utah. 


X-Ray \%ion 

Soon after it was launched into Earth 
orbit in July 1999, NASA's Chandra 
X-Ray Observatory began gathering 
images of supernovas, black holes, and 
quasars — some of the most enigmatic 
objects in the sky. Because cosmic X 
rays are emitted by matter heated to 
millions of degrees by violent explo- 
sions or intense magnetic or gravita- 
tional fields, the Chandra telescope is 
revealing new features of the hottest 
and most turbulent regions of the uni- 
verse. On the Internet, an album of 
the observatory's images can be found 
.html, on a site run by the Harvard- 
Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. 

With a resolution twenty times 
better than that ot previous X-ray tele- 
scopes, Chandra has peered into the 
crowded region at the center of our 
Milky Way gala.\)'. Pinpointing emis- 
sions from a supermassive black hole 
about 2.6 million times the mass of 
the Sun ( 
/cyclel/(}2()4), the new telescope 
promises to clarify' the true nature of a 
galactic core. 

Chandra is also illuminating the su- 
pernova remnant EO 102-72 (chandra In 
the ashes of an exploded star in a 
neighboring galaxy 200,000 light- 
years from Earth, researchers can ob- 
serve a ring of ox\'gen heated to nearly 
10 million degrees by shock waves 
from the original blast. The ring, now 
some 30 Ught-years across, contains 
enough ox^'gen to form thousands of 
solar systems like our own. Chandra's 
spectacular images are providing an 
unprecedented glimpse into the cre- 
ation and dispersal of the hea\y ele- 
ments (ever^'thing beyond hydrogen 
and heUum) necessar\' for the forma- 
tion of planets like Earth. 

Robert Anderson is a freelance science 
writer based in Los Angeles. 


Jacobson's Organ and the Remark- 
able Nature of Smell, by Lyall Watson 
(WW Norton, 2000; $24.95; 256 pp.) 
Most of us know that smells are picked 
up by the nose, relayed to the brain's 
olfactory bulbs, and translated as, say, a 
whifF of perfume, or the stink of 
skunk. Few know about the transmis- 
sion of subtler sexual, pheromonal, and 
other chemical odors via the vomero- 
nasal organ, or Jacobson's organ 
(named after the Danish anatomist 
who discovered it in 1809), to an en- 
tirely different part of the brain — the 
hypothalamus. Science writer Watson 
explores the scent-sensing mechanisms 
that have evolved not just in humans 
but throughout the animal kingdom. 

Millions of Monarchs, Bunches of 
Beetles: How Bugs Find Strength in 

Numbers, by Gilbert Wddbauer (Harvard 
University Press, 2000; $24.95; 264pp.) 
According to entomologist Waldbauer, 
insects, spiders, and many other ani- 
mals live cheek by jowl to defend 
themselves against enemies, to find 
mates and food, and to cope with ex- 
tremes of weather. He cites, among 
many colorful examples, a group of 
daddy longlegs that formed a huge 
cluster, about 70,000 strong; their mass 
of long, threadlike legs created a thick 
pelt that deflected the wind and slowed 
the loss of moisture. 

Medicine Quest: In Search of Na- 
ture's Healing Secrets, by Mark j. 

Plotkin (Viking, 2000; $24.95; 214pp.) 
Ethnobotanist Plotkin ranges far afield 
to report on the race to discover and 
botde natural remedies, from eriostatin 
(a protein from Asian pit vipers that ap- 
pears to inhibit the spread of melanoma 
cells) to myrrh (a fragrance used as an 
antibiotic in the ancient world) . 

Defending the Cavewoman and 
Other Tales of Evolutionary Neurol- 
ogy, by Harold Klawans (W W Norton, 
2000; $24.95; 224 pp.) 
'<iawan,% plays the double role of detec- 

tive and neurologist as he attempts to 
figure out the genesis of his patients' 
symptoms, which range from alexia 
and other aphasias to "painful-foot- 
and-moving-toe syndrome." 

Walking With Dinosaurs: A Natural 

History, by Tim Haines (Dorling Kindersley, 
2000; $30; 288 pp.) 

Although published to accompany the 
BBC television series of the same 
name, this book by zoologist Haines 
can stand alone. It contains an abun- 
dance of eerily lifelike images of ex- 
tinct dinosaurs, marine reptiles, 
pterosaurs, and early mammals, all 
based on the "animatronics" of the 
film. The you-are-there text is lavishly 
supplemented with graphics and with 
brief essays filled with scientific back- 
ground information. 

Africa in My Blood: An Autobiogra- 
phy in Letters, by Jane Goodall (Houghton 
Mifflin, 2000; $28; 371 pp.) 
Selecting from the letters Jane Goodall 
wrote between the ages of seven and 
thirty-two, editor Dale Peterson has 


Botanica, by Tom Baril, (Arena 
Editions, 2000; $75.00; 60 plates) 

presented an intimate and vivid por- 
trait of the British primatologist who 
went out to East Africa at the age of 
twenty-three, became the assistant to 
Louis Leakey in his studies of apes, 
and remained there to conduct her 
own (now world-famous) research on 

Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by 

Rebecca Solnit (Viking, 2000; $24.95; 
318 pp.) 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: The Rever- 
ies of the Solitary Walker, Botanical 
Writings, and Letter to Franquieres, 

edited by Christopher Kelly (University Press of 
Neiv England, 2000; $65; 349 pp.) 
Two very different books extol the 
benefits of walking. Solnit's eclectic 
compendium covers everything from 
human bipedal beginnings to reli- 
gious pilgrimages. Rousseau's medita- 
tions affirm that "these hours of soH- 
tude and meditation are the only ones 
in the day during which I am fully 
myself and for myself, without diver- 
sion, without obstacle, and during 
which I can truly claim to be what 
nature willed." 

On Tycho's Island: Tycho Brahe and 
His Assistants, 1570-1601, by John 

Robert Christianson (Cambridge University 
Press, 2000; $34.95; 451pp.) 
For twenty years, Tycho Brahe, a six- 
teenth-century Danish astronomer and 
patron-practitioner of science, main- 
tained an international research com- 
munity on the island of Hven, granted 
to him by King Frederick II. Partici- 
pants (among them Johannes Kepler) 
were trained in the use of new instru- 
ments and innovative methods of ob- 
servation and experimentation, and 
many of them contributed to the sci- 
entific revolution that culminated in 
the Enlightenment. 

Book mentioned in "Natural Selec- 
tions" are usually available in the Mu- 
seum Shop, (212) 769-5150, or on the 
Museum's Web site, 





Thejoliii liuiRHighs Association lipids 
its annual meeting at 10:30 A.M. Bernd 
Heinrich, author of Mind of the Riwcii, 
will receive this year's award for nature 
writing. For tickets to the awards lun- 
cheon, call (212) 769-5169. 


At 7:00 I'.M., Marc Hauser, professor of 
psychology at Harvard University and 
author of Wild Minds: lilnit Animals 
Really Tliink, discusses new ideas about 
animal intelligence, gleaned from evo- 
lutionary theory and cognitive science. 


As part of the "Frontiers in Astro- 
physics" series, Robert Kirshner, of the 
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for As- 
trophysics, gives a talk at 7:30 KM. enti- 
tled "The Runaway Universe: Measur- 
ing the Universe with Supernovae." 

politan C Conservation Alliance, a two- 
day symposium entitled "Nature in 
Fragments: The Legacy of Urban 
Sprawl." To register, call (212) 769- 
5200. For additional information, go to 

An exhibition 

of bookbindings 

by S. A. Neff Jr., 

who speciaUzes 

in piscatorial 


is on display in 

the Library 

Gallery from 

April 1 through S.^^ ~^~ 

June 25. *^' ^''■' 

of research on Yellowstone's threatened 
grizzly bear in a 7:00 P.M. talk. 


At 7:30 RM., storyteller Diane Wolk- 
stein, using a combination of voice, 
gesture, and song, presents a 4,000- 


In his 7:00 p.m. talk, geneticist Steve 
Jones draws on his new book, Damnn's 
( ]host: The Origin of Species Updated, 
tt) survey what's been happening in 
evolutionary biology since 1859. 

APRIL 11, 18, AND 25 

The first three speakers in a series of 
7:00 P.M. talks on the state of genetic 
research are molecular biologist and 
1989 Nobel laureate Harold E. Varmus 
("How Genetics Is Transforming Med- 
icine"), cell biologist and 1999 Nobel 
laureate Giinter Blobel ("The Empow- 
ered Cell"), and legal scholar Bartha 
M. Knoppers (leading a panel dis- 
cussing "Ethical and Legal Implications 
of Genetic Medicine"). For informa- 
tion, call (212) 769-5176. 

APRIL 13 AND 14 

The Center for Biodiversity' and Con- 
servation is cosponsoring, with the 
Wildlife Conservation Society's Metro- 

APRIL 15 AND 16 

From 1:00 to 4:00 P.M. during "Di- 
nosaur Weekend," sponsored by the 
Museum and Dicovery Kids, children 
between the ages of six and eleven can 
participate in paleontologic activities in 
the Fossil Halls. 


As part of the "Distinguished Authors 
in Astronomy" series, writer Andrew 
Chaikin gives a talk at 7:30 p.m. entided 
"The Apollo Odyssey." 


At 7:00 P.M., a musical visualization 
program, conceived by computer sci- 
entist and musician Marty Quinn in 
collaboration with University of New- 
Hampshire scientists, evokes 110,000 
years of Earth's climatic history. 


Dave Mattson, of the U.S. Geological 
Sur%'ey, discusses his twenty-five years 

year-old Sumerian epic in a perform- 
ance entitled "The Story of Inanna: 
Queen ot Heaven and Earth." 


"Full Moon," an exhibition of pho- 
tographs from the archives of NASA's 
Apollo missions, is on display in the 
new Rose Center for Earth and Space. 
The works were compiled and printed 
by artist Michael Light. 

For information about this month's 
weekend multicultural programs, "Na- 
tive Cultures of the Americas: A New 
Generation," call (212) 769-5315. 

The American Museum of Natural 
History is located at Central Park West 
and 79th Street in New York City. For 
listings of events, exhibitions, and 
hours. caU (212) 769-5100. Visit the 
Museum's Web site at \v\\' 
Space Show tickets, retail products, 
books, and Museum memberships are 
now available online. 

.■^-';, 9"2i 




■\ 1 LIRA 1 

IIM (1 

IN 4/00 




Going Online 

In McAUen, Texas, a buff-bellied hummingbird 
sits in the cup-shaped nest she has anchored to 
a clothespin. These diminutive birds usually 
choose the elbow of a branching twig as the 
nest's base, but this one used a familiar human 
artifact instead. The nest itself is constructed 
from plant fibers, lichens, shredded bark, and 
blossoms, bound together with spider silk. 

Other species of hummingbird pass through 
southern Texas during migration, but the buff- 
bellied hummingbird resides year-round in the 
Rio Grande valley. The birds' nests are com- 
monly hidden in low shrubs; this one, however, 
was boldly established in the open courtyard of 
an apartment building. 

An elderly resident called the local media 
when she discovered the nest. After the as- 
pirin-sized eggs had hatched and the hum- 
mingbirds had left, the woman gave the nest, 
clothesline and all, to the photographer's busi- 
ness partner, who displays it in a place of 
honor in her own backyard. — Richard Milner 

Photograph by Steve Bentsen 


Explore the World with Discovery Tours 

Since 1 869, the American 
Museum of Natural l-iistory 
has sponsored thousands of 
scientific expeditions around 
the globe in an effort to 
unravel the world's greatest 
mysteries. It is this passion 
to discover and to under- 
stand that inspires 
Discovery Tours, the 
Museum's educational 
travel program. 


Mongolia: Land of Nomads, 
Monks, and Genghis Khan 
June 4-20, 2000 
September 3-19,2000 

Life on the Mississippi: 

Memphis to New Orleans 
Aboard the Delta Queen 
April 15-22, 2000 | 
From $695 to $5,785 ! 

Participants in the 
Discovery Tours travel pro- 
gram have the unique 
opportunity to explore the 

world with Museum 

scientists as they continue 
to uncover new insights into 
the nature of life on earth. 
Since 1 953, over 17,000 
Museum travelers have 
participated in Discovery 
Tours to some of the 
world's greatest wildlife 
areas, archaeological sites 
and cultural centers, j 

Northern Australia: 

In Quest of Rock Art and 
Natural Treasures 
June 23- July 7, 2000 

Qiina and the Yangtze Rivex 

September 6-24, 2000 T 
September 27-October 13, 2000 
From $6,690 to $7,290 

(Airfare from L,A, included) 

Exploring the Prehistoric j 
Caves and Medieval T 
Castles of Southern France 

September 14-26, 2000 
$4,990 . j 

The Isles of Britain and 
Ireland Aboard the 

Caledonia Star ! 

June 10-23, 2000 
From $6,540 to $11,70,0 

North America's 
Great Lakes: ~ 

Toronto to Chicago 
Aboard Le Levant 
June 30 -July 8, 2000 
From $3,690 to $5,190 

The Enduring Spirit of 
Tibetan Buddhism: 

Bhutan, Ladakh, and Sikkim 
September 24- 
October 13, 2000 
$6,990 • I 

Elephant Walk: 

Zimbabwe, Zambia, and 


September 12-28, 2000 


Voyage to the North Pole: 

Aboard the Icebreaker Yamal 
July 23 -August 6, 2000 
From $16,950 to $22,950 

Journey to the Top of the 
"World: From the Northwest'^" 
Passage to Greenland Aboard 
the Clipper Adventurer 
August 15-27, 2000 | 
From $4,380 to $7,920 

From Early Man to 
Contemporary Civilization: 

Dordogne Valley, the Iberian 
Penifisiila, and Bilbao 
Aboard the M/S Explorer 
September 21 - October 4, 2000 
$4,475 to $6,2F5 

Under Sail in the Western 
Mediterranean: ]ourne\/ From 
Sicily to South^n Spain Aboard 
the Sea Cloud i, 
October 14-27, 2000 
From $6,270 to $10,620 

Egypt and the Nile Aboard 
the M/S Sovereign 
October 15-29, 2000 
$5,^90 i 

j I 
Circumnavigating South 
Georgia and the Falkland 
Islands Aboard the 
M/S Explorer 
November 20- 
December 9, 2000 
^.Frorn $7,990 to $12,890 ._^_ 

*Most of our land programs 
are limited to 15-25 

Magnificent Passage:] 

A Journey of Discovery from 
Paris to Rome Aboard the 
Seabourn Goddess n j 
August 20- September'2, 2000 
From $6,995 to $14,195 
(Airfare from N.Y. included!) 

Splendors of Antiquity: Egypt, 
Israel, Syria, Cyprus, and 
Lebanon Aboard the Clelia II 
November 30- 
December 13, 2000 
$5,995 to $12,995j 


Anciet Crossroads by 
Private Jet: London, Petra, 
Jerash, Damascus, Palmyra, 
Rangoon, Pagan, Angkor Wat, 
Borobudur, Mongolia, 
Silk Road Oasis, and Iran 
October 31-November 21, 2000 

prices based on double occupancy. Single rates available on all tours. All prices, dates, and itineraries are subject to change. 

f X" 





The Ancient Silk Route 

China and Central Asia 
September 15- 
Octoher 7, 2000 
From $8,990 to $12,990 




Tibetan Buddhism 

Bhutan, Ladakh, and Sikkim 
September 24 -October 13 2000 

Nepal: Trekking Through 
the Annapurna Foothills 
October 27- 
November 9, 2000 

Sb,790 (Airfare from N.Y. included) 

Journey Through Rajasthan: 

,4 Cnnicl Trek and the 
Exotie Pushkar Fair 
November 2-17, 2000 
$5,690 ^- 

Submarine Safari 2000: 

/// Searcli of the Six\;ill Sharks 
July 10-14, July 12-16, and 
July 14-18, 2000 


Family Alaska Aboard 

the M/S Seven Seas 
June 16-28, 2000 
From $2,995 to $7,795 

Galapagos Family 
Adventure Aboard the 
Santa Cruz 

July 1-11, 2000 

From $2,780 to $5,560 

A Summer Family 
Adventure in Tuscany 
July 14-22, 2000 
From $3,390 to $4,990 

Voyage to the Lands of Gods 
and Heroes: A Family Voyage 
to the A)icient Mediterranean 
Aboard the Clelia II 
July 8- August 18, 2000 
Julv24-August4, 2000 
From $1,995 to $9,875 

Costa Rica: 

A Family Rainforest Adventure 
August 18-27,2000 
From $2,390 to $3,290 



Here is a sample of the 
unique tours we are 
offering for 2001! 

Heaven & Earth: Around 
the World Private Jet 
Expedition to Celebrate the 
Rose Center for Earth and 
Space: Tikal, Cuzco, Machii 
Picchu, Easter Island, Samoa, 
Ayers Rock, Borobudur, 
Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, 
Luxor, Petra, Nonvax/'s 
Northern Lights 
January 19-February 10, 2001 

Exploring Antarctica and 
the Falkland Islands 

Aboard the Hanseatic 
January 14-29, 2001 
From $7,975 to $15,475 

Bhutan and Northern 'f 
India Aboard the Royal 
Orient Train 

January 29 - February 15, 2001 

Indian Ocean Odyssey: 
South Africa, Madagascar 
& the Seychelles 

Aboard the Hanseatic 
March 17 -April 5, 2001 
Estimated $9,250 to $17,500 

Contact the Discovery 
Tours office for a free 
catalogue of all our 
tours or for a special 
family program guide. 

(800) 462-8687 or 
(212) 769-5700 

Fax: (212) 769-5755 
Please mention code:#G400 
American Museum of 
Natural History ^ 

Discovery Tours 
Central Park West at 
79th Street New York, 
NY 10024-5192 ,.,^ 

Visit us at: 

Disfot't'n/ Tours is pleased 
to assist private ^oups of 
10 or more travelers in 
designing fascinating and 
enriching tours to diverse 
destinations around the 


Discovery Tours, the educational travel department of the American Museum ot Natural History, is a registered service mark of this institution. 


Natural history 
Received on: 03-27-2000 
Ref 5, 06(74. 7) Ml 


George Schaller, science director of tine Wildlife Conservation Society, has spent four decades studying 
\A/Jldlife and fighting for its survival. His Rolex has proven its reliability in some very rugged environments. 


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There is no question that we are drawn to wild animals. Bnt arc they ever 
drawn to ns? BY JOHN TERBORGH 


111 the underground world of dung 

beedes, the strong, well-armored males 

always win the females — or do they? 


; COVER To a spore 
blowing in the wind, a 
fresh green leaf is 
an inviting place to 
settle down. 

PAGE 70 



iTW^^i^ Vki 




All summer long, a tree's green 
t'ohage hosts burgeoning communities 
ot tiny flingi. In autumn, the guests 
become the undertakers. 



It truly wild camels exist, biologists 

w ant to study them. But first they must 

tmd them in the trackless waste. 





Unknown, Familiar 





Phoebe Diary 


Peering Into the Past 



Jim Bowie's Letter and Bill 
Buckner's Legs 


On the Rebound 


Take Two Beers and Call Me in 

1,600 Years 





A Classic Revisited 


The Birds and the Bees 



What's New in Prehistory 



Scorch and Soda 


A Tree's Old Age 


There are few gifts that last a lifetime. 

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Museums play an important and irreplaceable part in our education and appreciation 
or tne world we innaDit. Eacn visit broadens our understanding or nature and tne 
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10 LETTERS natural history 5/00 


The Not-Always-Frozen 
Ground Squirrel 

"The Natural Moment" 
(3/00) reports that Arctic 
ground squirrels "can 
withstand temperatures 
below 30° F for months at a 
time, to all appearances 
frozen solid." 

In fact, however, even 
when the animal's "core" 
body temperature is as low 
as 27° F, its head and 
anterior body do not get 
colder than 32° F Moreover, 
for roughly eighteen hours 
every two to three weeks, 
the squirrel's body warms to 
between 97° and 100° E 
During these episodes, the 
animal generally remains in 
the curled posture of 
hibernation, sleeping 67 

percent of the time. Brain 
waves, absent when the 
animal is deeply torpid, 
return spontaneously. 

Other small mammals 
that hibernate at low 
temperatures pass through 
similar cycles, which are 
beheved to be critical for 
refreshing brain circuitry. 
These periodic returns to 

In the coming issues of 

Rhythm and Blooms How does a plant sense 
that the time is right for flowering? After years of 
sleuthing, molecular biologists are beginning to find out. 

On the Trail of a Hat it gave spirit to Harry 
Truman, charm to Albert Einstein, and identity to 
Charlie Chan. But the Panama hat really comes from 

normal metabohc levels may 
be necessary for protein 
synthesis at brain synapses. 
J. Lee Kavanau 
University of California 
Los Angeles, California 

Historians Need 
Sdentists . . . 

Stephen Jay Gould brings 
some welcome clear 
thinking to bear on Ernst 
Haeckel's faked embryo 
pictures {"Abscheulich! 
Atrocious!" 3/00). 
Admittedly, some of those 
sensational press stories from 
1997 that Gould criticizes 
were based on interviews 
with me. So the errors in 
them may reflect my 
(former) ignorance of the 
fact that German 
embryologists in Haeckel's 
own day recognized his 
fabrications. As a biologist, I 
read the Haeckel pictures as 
scientific hypotheses. For 
their part, historians of 
science sometimes defend 
Haeckel by saying he was 
only attempting to idealize 
what he believed to be true 
of natural forms. Maybe so, 
but in that case, his drawings 
are not science. 

The problem may be 
that academic history of 
science looks at the cultural 
and political factors that 
surround scientists but not 
in detail at the science itself. 
Professional scientists need 
Gould's scientifically 
informed brand of the 
"history of ideas." 
Michael K. Richardson 
Saint George's Hospital 
Medical School 

. . . and Scientists Need 

Charles T. Snowdon's 
review of Wild Minds: 
Wliat Animals Really Think 
(3/00) presents the 
following six-step 
argument: (1) When 
looking into mirrors, 
great apes (gorillas, 
chimpanzees) react to 
marks surreptitiously 
placed on their faces. (2) 
They couldn't react in that 
way without understanding 
the image in the mirror to 
be their own. (3) One can 
perceive an image to be of 
oneself only if one has self- 
awareness. (4) Great apes 
thus have self- awareness. 

(5) Monkeys in the same 
circumstances do not react 
to marks on their faces. 

(6) Monkeys, therefore, do 
not have self- awareness. 

Statement 6 follows oidy 
if statement 3 presents a 
necessary rather than a 
sufficient condition for self- 
awareness. Some humans 
from technologically 
undeveloped cultures, for 
example, do not recognize 
images of themselves in 
photographs. What follows 
about their self-awareness? 

Concepts such as self- 
awareness need more 
analysis than they are 
typically given by scientists 
studying animal cognition. 
Philosophers have been 
doing that kind of analysis 
for quite some time. 
Ken W. Gatzke 
Southern Connecticut 
State University 
New Haven, Connecticut 

lace yourself in a . 
A._ 51.100 km mou 

12 CONTRIBUTORS natural history 5/00 

John Terborgh ("In the Company of Humans") is James B. Duke Professor at Duke 
University's Nicholas School of the Environment and codirector of the university's Center 
for Tropical Conservation. For nearly three decades, he has managed the Cocha Cashu 
Biological Station in Peru's Manu National Park. His research there has focused, at 
different times, on primates, birds, jaguars, and forest dynamics. His 1999 book Requiem 
Nature (Island Press) vyas reviewed in the September 1999 issue of Natural . 



' History. 

Another recent work. Continental Conservation, coedited with Michael E. Soule (Island 
Press, 1999), lays out the principles for designing nature preserves. His current project is 
another coedited volume entitled Making Parks Work. It is Httle wonder that he sometimes 
seeks refuge in a screened tent deep in the forest. 

As a graduate student, Douglas Emlen ("Dig It, and They Will Come") was looking for a 
splashy beede with big horns to study. When biologist WiUiam Eberhard showed him a box 
of tiny black dots and said, "These are the beetles you should work on," he was reluctant. 
Now, a decade later, he is very glad he took the advice. Onthophagine dung beetles — in 
addition to having impressive horns (if you look very closely) and interesting mating 
behavior — are nearly ubiquitous, which makes them perfect for studying both in the 
laboratory and in the field. They have taken him to Panama, Ecuador, Austraha, and several 
parts of the United States. Emlen hopes next to explore species in which gender roles are 
reversed — that is, in which the females wear the horns. Emlen is assistant professor in the 
Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Montana in Missoula. 

Trained in earth sciences and ecology at the University of New Hampshire, field biologist 
Peter J. Marchand ("Life on a Leaf") has devoted his career to the ecology of forests, tundra, 
and, more recently, desert. A visiting professor at Colorado College and a regular contributor to 
Natural History, Marchand has focused on cold-season phenomena. His latest book. Autumn: A 
Season of Change (University Press of New England), will be published this year. Describing 
himself as "broken loose from the halter of academic specialization to rummage freely, like a 
bear in a garbage dump, for the biological spoils" that interest him the most, Marchand travels 
throughout Europe and North America when he's not in Arizona, which he now calls home. 

Born in Great Britain, John Hare ("Searching for the Wild Bactrian Camel") 

acquired his practical knowledge of domesticated camels in Africa, beginning in 

Nigeria, where he served as an administrator in late colonial times and during 

the early years of independence. He subsequently worked for the BBC and in 

international publishing before again encountering camels, this time as an 

employee of the United Nations Environment Programme in Kenya. In this 

issue. Hare describes his most recent adventure investigating wild camels in Asia. 

EarHer explorations are recounted in his book Tlie Lost Camels of Tartary: A 

Quest into Forbidden China (Little, Brown, 1998). In 1997 Hare founded the 

Wild Camel Protection Foundation, with Jane Goodall as patron, and proposed 

establishing the Lop Nur Nature Sanctuary to save the animals, whose lands are threatened by development. China 

signed on to this project in March 1999, and Hare has now raised more than $800,000 to help make it a reality. 

"I have always had a fascination with the geology and landforms of the Great Rift Valley," says 
photographer Gerry ElllS ("Scorch and Soda"). Ellis's interest evolved into a project 
commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund to document the ecosystems of African rift lakes. 
While growing up in the Pacific Northwest, EUis often hiked into the foothills around Mount 
Rainier. He now travels to remote corners of the world to photograph endangered wildlife. His 
photographs have appeared in BBC Wildlife, Natural History, Terre Sauvage, Audubon, GEO, and 
National Geographic, as well as in more than a dozen books. For the featured image, Ellis used a 
Nikon F4 and a wide-angle lens while flying low over the lake in a single-engine plane. 

With so much to discover on and below the ground 
under the sea ... and in outer space . . . 
(to say nothing of miUions of years of history) . . . 

Shouldn't you be 
seeing EVERY ISSUE of 

From animals (feathered, finned, and furred) to plants 
and minerals: all, including mankind itself, make 
regular appearances in our gloriously full-color pages. 

Subscribe now to Natural History and receive 10 
absorbing, illuminating issues for just $25 — a 
savings of 37% off the regular newsstand price. 

Nowhere will you experience the splendid variety and 
scope of the natural world as you do in the photo es- 
says, articles, special features, and columns that make 
Natural History unique. 

In each issue you'll probe behind the science headlines 
in your daily paper ... meet the people who expand the 
frontiers of science ... encounter animals and plants 
you never knew existed ... travel into outer space and 
back ... enable yourself to make infomied judgments 
about critical ecological issues ... learn why human so- 
cieties behave as they do. 

The world is a remarkable place, and nowhere does 
that come to life more vividly than in the pages of thi>^ 

Phone 1-800-234-5252. 

lOutside of U.S. please add $10 for postage and call (515) 247-7631 for customer sei^ice 

Use Key. ■ M205] 



Phoebe Diary 

A naturalist takes an intimate look at the family over the door. 


By Bernd Heinrich 

Almost two hundred years ago, 
John James Audubon attached 
.a Ught silver thread to the legs 
of a pair of eastern phoebes that were 
nesting in a cave on his father's estate 
in Pennsylvania. This early experiment 
in American bird banding paid off: 
Audubon was dehghted to see the 
birds he had marked return the next 
year. A few of these fly-catching 
songbirds may still nest in caves; others 
use more traditional sites, building 
their nests under cliff overhangs. But 
today, hke barn swallows and adaptable 
imports such as house sparrows and 
rock doves, many eastern phoebes raise 
their young near humans and their 
structures: under bridges, in barns, or 
beneath the eaves of houses. 

My first intimate contact with these 
dark- to smoky-gray birds with the 
white bibs was in 1951, when my 
family moved to Maine. A pair nested 
in our three-seater outhouse. Later I 
nailed a small piece of board onto the 
underside of a beam in the barn. 
Phoebes buUt there the next spring, and 
they continue to do so today. Probably 
most farmsteads close to woods in the 
Northeast and Midwest host a pair of 
phoebes. For five months of the year at 
my current home in rural Vermont, my 
family and I enjoy watching a near- 
tame mated pair raise two successive 
broods of four to five young. Phoebes 
help mark my annual cycle, one that 
begins, come spring, with their arrival 
back "home" from their wintering 
grounds in the southern United States. 

My diary for March 24, 1998, 
records that year's first intimations of 
the phoebes' return. A warm wind that 
day was rapidly melting the remaining 
snow. Down in the bog, the first red- 

vwnged blackbirds were yodeling, and a 
robin sang in the evening. I went to 
sleep hearing the wind. 

I awoke suddenly in the night, 
almost sure I had heard a phoebe. But 
I could see only darkness through the 
skyhght above my bed. 1 went back to 
sleep thinking this would be a great 
night to migrate. If I were a phoebe, I 
might ride home on the wind. 

The next night, from the maple 
tree just outside the bedroom window, 
I heard it again, a phoebe's excited 
"dchirzeep, dchirzeep" call. There was 
just the faintest glow of dawn in the 
sky, and 1 jumped out of bed to look. 
Perched barely five feet from the 
window, the phoebe wagged its tail up 
and down (a characteristic move), 
stretched a wing, and continued 
calHng. I made a cup of coffee, took 
notes, and waited for dawn. 

Dayhght revealed two birds. 
Phoebes typically refiirbish an old nest 
or build a new one on top of the old. 
This pair wasted no time inspecting 
the two spots where they had nested 
in previous years. One was the bend in 
the drainpipe by the bedroom 
window, the other a one-inch ledge 
just above the back door. Each time 
one of the pair landed on one of the 
old nests, it made a soft cluttering call 
and vibrated its wings. Quickly the 
pair decided on the back-door site. 

The male's dependable greeting 
starts the day, every day, for two 
months. The "song" can be described 
as a short, high buzz-whistle or can be 
Hkened to the sound of a zipper pulled 
rapidly up and down. The song 
consists of thirty two-syllable "fee-bee, 
fee-bay" phrases per ininute, all 
deUvered with clocklike regularity. 

From April 2-4 it was overcast and 
spitting snow, and the phoebes were 
uncharacteristically silent. When 1 
awoke on April 5 to find the ground 
covered with an inch of snow, I feared 
for their hves. Phoebes belong to the 
tyrant flycatcher family and are 
adapted for capturing insects on the 
wing. They have favorite perches 
from which they sally forth to snatch 
their airborne prey. But there had 
been no insects aloft for days. I was 
surprised to see one of the phoebes 
on the ground under my truck, 
apparently searching for insects there. 
I was even more struck to see one 
bird first hover nearby, then pick at, 
and finally eat the suet I had hung 
from the porch railing for 
woodpeckers. Although their 
predation is usually triggered by the 
movement of insects in flight, the 
phoebes had, when necessary, 
improvised to find food. 

The end of that week brought 
milder weather, and my diary indicates 
that the pair was present but quiet: 
"Only soft whisper calls near the nest." 
On April 9 the female, with her mate 
in attendance, began gathering billfuls 
of mud and bright green moss for the 
nest, making trip after trip with speed 
and apparent urgency. Phoebes are 
unusual among songbirds in 
refiirbishing old nests and in using 
mud to cement the structure onto the 
smallest of platforms. 

The eggs were not laid until the 
last week of April, as the weather 
warmed up, serviceberry bloomed, 
and maples, poplars, birches, and 
beeches were leafing out. That week, 
five species of warblers arrived. The 
phoebes seemed intent and wary, the 

female incubating aiul tlic iii.ik- 
aggressively guarding the iiest ,iiui 
eggs. Males have gooil reason to 
mount a iletense, uk! I iiave 
intervenetl more once myself 
when the nest was threateneil. One 
morning, when the phoebes had 
fallen silent, 1 noticed a cowbird 
hanging around. Brown-headed 
cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of 
other species, usually small songbirds 
that are duped inti) raising the alien 
young while their own offspring 
perish. I was sure the cowbird, a 
female, was targeting the phoebes, 
and apparently they knew it too. Five 
minutes after the cowbird was gone, 
they erupted into a song that 

continued unali.ited lor tuc iinnutes. 
Several years earlier I had leinoved a 
chipnuuik that repeatedly trieii to get 
at the nest, persistuig even in the face 
of the phoebes' frantic attempts to 
repel it. The pair's vocal response was 
similarly vigorous. 

Tiiese events and the fact tiiat the 
birds are so accustomed to our 
household — they never even flush 
when we go in and out the squeaky 
door, and they use our vehicles as 
perciies — lead me to wonder about 
this species' choice of nest sites. They 
may not only be adapting to new 
situations but also benefiting from the 
human presence. Some tropical bird 
species rear their young near wasp 

Bed and breakfast: Snug on a barn ledge, eastern phoebe nestlings gape hungrily. 

nests and depend on the insects to 
repel predators. Perhaps humans 
perform the same service for phoebes. 

After about sixteen days of 
nil t:l),ition, five young hatched in 
mid-May. In addition to filling the 
nestlings' demands tor food, the adults 
kept the nest meticulously clean, at 
first by eating the chicks' fecal pellets 
and later by carrying them off for 
disposal tar from the nest. By the last 
week in May, when the young were 
rapidly feathering out, pellets started to 
accumulate under the nest, on our 
back steps. That meant the chicks 
would soon fledge. Sure enough, on 
June 1, at about 6:00 A.M., I heard 
excited chirp calls and then saw one of 
the young fluttering away, with the 
parents accompanying it. Another 
chick was on the ground by the back 
door. I picked it up. It closed its eyes 
and feigned death, but when I put it 
on the woodpile, it quickly revived 
and scampered off. By afternoon, 
when all was quiet around the house. I 
heard the adults in the nearby woods. 
When I investigated, I found all five 
young perched in a row about fifteen 
feet up in a leaf\' ironwood tree. 

The next dawn, the male was back, 
singing by the house. While sha\dng, I 
heard the pair's nest chatter that says 
"Here is the place." With not a day 
wasted, the phoebes were at the nest 
site. They were still feeding their 
fledged voung. but in r\vo more days 
the female iiad relined the nest arid 
then immediately started laying a 
second clutch of eggs. On July 1 1 the 
second brood of four nestUngs fledged. 

The phoebe pair spends litde time 
around the house after late July. In 
mid-September we commonly hear 
and see the pair, but onl\' for a day or 
two. As the foliage brightens and the 
forest turns silent, they lea\-e. I always 
nuss these h\'ely housemates until they 
return the followdng spring. 

Bcnui Heiimcli is a professor of biology at 
the University ofl'eriiiont in Burlington. 




By Richard Panek 

Peering: Into the Past 

To understand the 
concept of light-speed, 
just bring it closer to 
home (plate). 

One of the most basic concepts 
of modern cosmology is also 
one of the most baffling for 
sky watchers: the finite speed of Hght. 
Again and again, in hushed tones that 
suggest embarrassment at not "getting" 
something so fundamental, people 
have told me they know that looking 
out across space is the same as looking 
back in time — but how can that be} 

Much of astronomy is anything but 
intuitive, and the idea that the speed of 
light is finite does indeed lead to 
mind-bending impHcations and 
conclusions. Unfortunately, 
astronomers' usual way of explaining 
what they call lookback time only 
further obscures its meaning. 

Their explanation goes Hke this: 
Traveling at a speed of 186,282 miles 
per second, the light from the Sun 
takes a Uttle over eight Hght-minutes to 
reach us. The Hght firom Proxima, the 
next-nearest star, takes about four 
years; the light from the Andromeda 
Galaxy, the most distant object visible 
with the naked eye, more than two 
million years. And so it goes, farther 
and farther out in space, further and 
further back in time, until you are 
suitably overwhelmed with just how 
vast and strange this universe of ours 
really is. But this explanation, I think, 
only succeeds in putting more 
distance — literally — between you and 
the universe. Perhaps it would be 
easier to grasp the relationship 
between space and time if we brought 
the universe closer to home. 

The Energy of Explosions 25 Billion Years B.C., by Vance Kirkland, 1978 

It's spring, so let's imagine that we're 
at a baseball game. From where we're 
sitting in the bleachers, we can watch 
the Sun setting and, on the opposite 
horizon, the full Moon rising. The 
Sun is sHghtly more than 8 Hght- 
ininutes away. The Moon is 1.25 light- 
seconds away. But what about the 
batter poised at the plate? 

Crack! We hear the sound of bat on 
ball a moment after we see the batter 
swing and make contact. Since we're 
sitting in the bleachers, maybe 400 feet 
from home plate, the sound takes 
about a third of a second to reach our 
ears, and we think nothing of the time 

lag. We're used to the fact that sound 
takes time to reach us — that when we 
hear something, it actually happened 
moments ago. Sound waves and Hght 
waves are not the same thing, but for 
our purposes in this Httle 
gedankenexperiment, the comparison 
is useful. We take for granted that we 
hear things in the past. The fact is, we 
see things in the past, too, but that lag 
isn't as obvious. 

As it happens, if you do the math, 
the speed of Hght translates into an 
easy-to-remember formula: light 
travels one foot in about a biUionth of 
a second. So at 400 feet from home 

The Desert 

Tnat Glistenea 

Witk Water. 

Southeastern New Mexico is 
home to mesquite and chaparral, 
mesas and horizons that shimmer 
with heat. For animals 

of this parched land, 
survival comes with 
water. So people who work 
nearby helped design and build 
a system of dozens of unique 
watering units that gather, store 
and distribute water to bobcats, 
antelopes, hawks and more. 
Quenching nature's thirst and 
giving it a chance to survive. 


People Do. 

4 m 

'4 A 



18 ALMANAC natural history 5/00 

plate, you're seeing the batter 
400-billionths of a second in the past 
because it took that amount of time 
for the Hght striking your eyeballs to 
get there from the batter. That may 
not sound like much, but it's 
something: a quantifiable window into 
the past. 

But let's look around the ballpark 
some more. The left fielder who's 
maybe 100 feet in front of you? He's 
about 100-biUionths of a second in the 
past. The cotton candy vendor, two 
rows over? She's 20-billionths of a 
second in the past. The loud guy with 
the cigar sitting in front of you? He's 
only 3-biIlionths of a second in the 
past. Your hand in front of your face 
waving away the cigar smoke? It's 

1 -billionth of a second in the past, 
even though it's part of your body. 

But that's just your past: to the guy 
with the cigar, the batter is 
397-billionths of a second in the past; 
to the vendor keeping one eye out for 
a home-run ball, the batter is 
380-billionths of a second in the past; 
and to the left-fielder, the batter is 
300-billionths of a second in the past — 
even though it seems that you and 
everyone else in the ballpark are seeing 
the batter swing at the same time. 

In other words, where you are in 
space is where you are in time. The 
two concepts don't just coexist, they 
co-relate. You can't have one without 
the other. There can be no now 
without a here. 

This was one of the insights to come 
out of Einstein's special theory of 
relativity, and it certainly provides 
plenty of fodder for philosophical 
contemplation. But from a sky 
watcher's point of view, it can add a 
whole new dimension to appreciating 
what's out there. The next time you 
look up at the night sky and struggle 
to make sense of your place in the 
universe, just remember that you're 
struggling to make sense of your time 
in the universe, too. And if that doesn't 
help, try telling yourself this: Play ball! 

Richard Panek is the author of Seeing and 
Believing: How the Telescope Opened 
Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens 
(Penguin, 1999). 


By Joe Rao 

The (In)visible Planets Sometimes 
an astronomically useful word 
becomes prematurely obsolete — for 
instance, "combust." It was once used 
as an adjective, referring to a planet or 
star seemingly extinguished by the 
Sun's Hght. This month, every one of 
the planets that can be seen by the 
naked eye (Mercury, Venus, Mars, 
Jupiter, and Saturn) will be combust at 
one time or another, and during an 
interval between May 9 and 21, all 
five wiU efrectively be hidden from 
our view because of their proximity to 
the Sun. 

The exceptional clustering starts 
May 3—4, when the five planets, the 
Sun, and the Moon wiQ be contained 
in a 27° span of sky. Then, on May 5, 
at 4:04 A.M., the span containing them 
wiU shrink to only 25.9°. At 6:30 a.m. 
on May 17, after the Moon moves out 
of the arrangement, the remaining six 
celestial bodies will be contained 
within a span of just 19.5°. 

Whenever an unusual gathering of 
the planets occurs, it is nearly always 
accompanied both by a sense of 
wonder and by outright fear. In 1186 

A.D., for instance, a similar celestial 
event prompted predictions of natural 
disasters and produced widespread 
panic in Europe. But absolutely 
nothing happened. 

WiU the upcoming planetary 
conjunction afreet Earth, bringing 
about volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, 
and floods, as today's doomsayers 
predict? Even if all five planets were 
exactly in Hne with the Earth and at 
their closest possible distance to us, 
their combined gravitational force 
would equal only 1/6460 of the Sun's 
average tide. Bottom Hne: the Great 
Celestial AHgnment of 2000 should 
have no effect on Earth. 

Mercury is invisible early in the month 
as it passes behind the Sun (superior 
conjunction) on May 9. It then slowly 
emerges in the evening sky. Beginning 
May 22, look for it as a very bright star 
(magnitude -1) very low in the sky 
near the west-northwest horizon about 
an hour after sundown. 

Venus is too close to the Sun during 
May to be seen. 

Mars bids evening observers adieu 
during the first week of May, as it 
disappears in the bright evening 

Jupiter and Saturn are both in 
conjunction with the Sun in May 
(Jupiter on the 8th and Saturn on the 
10th), rendering the planets invisible 
for most of the month. They slowly 
emerge from the bright morning 
twiHght during the final days of May. 
Carefully scan the east-northeast 
horizon with binoculars about half an 
hour before sunrise, and both planets 
wiU be visible within 1.1° of each 
other. This is their first conjunction 
since 1981. Jupiter will appear as a 
bluish white disk about seven times 
brighter than yeUowish Saturn. 

The Moon is at new phase on May 4 at 
12:12 A.M. First quarter is on May 10 
at 4:00 P.M. Full Moon occurs on May 
18 at 3:34 A.M., and last quarter on 
May 26 at 7:55 A.M. 

All times are given in Eastern Daylight 

.*'•■-,• \.i 


you travel 
by car, by bike, 

on horseback 

or on foot. 

follow the 


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\ This year, make summer travel an adventure for all your 
^^ senses. Here, a guide to mapping out memorable natural 
and cultural exploits in eastern North America, home to 
some of the most scenic spots in the world. 





to New Brunswick, one of Canada's most alluring 
provinces. Located on ttie country's east coast, 
it borders Maine to the west, and the province 
of Quebec to the north. Most notably. New 
Brunswick is also bordered on three sides by 
water: Chaleur Bay to the north, the Gulf of 
St. Lawrence and the Northumberland Strait to 
the east and, perhaps most significantly, the 
Bay of Fundy, all along the southern coast. 

Many of New Brunswick's most picturesque 
byways follow along the coast of the Bay of 
Fundy. From the streets of cosmopolitan cities to 
historic, seaside towns and villages, the Bay 
of Fundy region is a unique coastal getaway 

The waters here invite fishing, sailing, 
and kayaking. Charming towns and cities 
offer eclectic galleries and boutiques and 
fine dining on fresh, succulent seafood. 
Whale watching is also a favorite activity 
here, where a variety of species put on a 
spectacular, unrehearsed daily show. 

The Bay of Fundy itself is one of the world's 

1-800-561-0123 OR VISIT 

most captivating natural 

phenomenons, an awe-inspiring 

display of truly monumental 

proportions. Considered one 

of the Marine Wonders of the 

World, the Bay of Fundy is a 

place of natural wonder, on 

par with the rainforests of Brazil and the Great 

Barrier Reef of Australia. 

The bay is an amazing force of nature. Twice a 
day, one hundred billion tons of seawater surge 
in and out of the Bay of Fundy, enough to fill the 
Grand Canyon to the brim. The bay's unique 
funnel shape pushes and squeezes the 
incoming tides to incredible heights, up to 48 
feet in some places. The tides here are the 
highest and most dramatic in the world. They 
create a spectacular panorama of carved coast- 
lines and headlands as well as a rich ecosystem 
that supports an unusual abundance of wildlife. 

Because of the size and frequency of the 
tides, there are certain notable attractions that 
are visible only at low tide, like the Hopewell 
Rocks. The Ocean Tidal Exploration Site at The 
Hopewell Rocks is the icon of New Brunswick's 
Outdoor Network. It is comprised of National and 

Provincial Parks, natural sites and 
amazing trails. In 1998, the Hopewell 
site was tripled in size and enhanced to 
include a new interpretive center with 
food services, multimedia exhibits, a gift 
shop, and visitor services, as well as an 
extensive trail network and viewing 
decks. In 1999 the site was the winner of 
Attractions Canada's Best New Site and British 
Airway's Tourism for Tomorrow award. 

Visitors to the Bay of Fundy are warmly invited 
to observe over 350 million years of natural 
history while exploring towns that reflect the 
region's multifaceted native and colonial history. 

The city of Saint John is the Fundy City, an 
ideal starting point for travel along the New 
Brunswick coast. A journey along the city's 
steep streets reveals over 400 years of history. 
Many of the city's most interesting boutiques, 
cafes, and historic properties are connected by 
a convenient indoor walkway system. The 
bustling farmer's market here is the oldest in 
the country. 

A rich blend of English and French-Acadian 
traditions gives the city of Moncton a distinct 
cultural flare, fine dining and accommodations, 
vibrant nightlife and renowned shopping 
centers make Moncton a great stop along any 
New Brunswick itinerary Moncton's Capitol 
Theatre, restored to its 1920s vaudeville 
grandeur, provides a stunning venue for live 
entertainment. The city's music scene offers 
something for everyone, from classical concerts 
to jazz, country and Acadian pop-rock. Naturalists 
will be equally entertained by the dramatic 
Tidal Bore of the Petitcodiac River, another of 
the province's famously beautiful waterways. 

Left: The Bay of Fundy offers some of the world's best whale 
watching. Above: Saint John's streets invite leisurely strolls. 
On the Cover: The Hopewell Rocks. 









.4'>.^ „ 

Experience One of the Marine Wonders of the World! 

It is amazing ecosystems. And vibrant cities. 
It Is the highest tides in the world. And lobster dinners. 
It is sea kayaking and shopping. Jet boat rides and 
colourful culture. It is more kinds of whales 
more often than anywhere else. Experience 
New Brunswick, Canada's Bay of Fundy... 
One of the Marine Wonders of the World! 




One of the Marine Wonders of the World 

Write: Toumm Nov ttl BrunsNvick, Dept. 142, P.O. Box 12345 
Campbellton, New Brunswick. Canada E3N 3T6 

New York 


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IJew i' 




i^ Airport 

Cail for Your Free 
Bay of Fundy Explorers KitI 

1 800 561-0123 

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AmVe at your destination 
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The Bay of Fundys 
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summer vacationers with natural beauty in mind. In 
New York, a Scenic Byway is officially defined as a 
highway designated by the federal government and 
New York State that reflects regionally significant 
resources. New York's Scenic Byways system invites 
unhurried tourists to fully experience the unique 
features of each of the state's scenic regions. 

The Seaway Trail has been a historically important 
travel corridor for thousands of years. The waters of 
Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the 
mighty St. Lawrence River supplied Native Americans 
and early European explorers with food and transport. 
Later, as shipbuilders created larger vessels, lumber, 
grain and commodities to serve the world's populations 
began to move along this great seaway The great 
battles of the War of 1812 were fought on these 
waters. Forty-two signposts note points significant to 
that struggle. Today, the 454 miles of this unique 
freshwater shoreline offer well-marked roads to 
villages, harbors, fishing ports and family attractions. 
Overnight accommodations range from hotels and 
inns to cottages and campgrounds. 

Some of America's finest sportfishing can be 
enjoyed along the Seaway Trail. Marinas, state and 
public boat launches, professional charters and 
guides are ready to serve you on two Great Lakes 
and many marvelous bays and streams including Oak 
Orchard Creek, the Salmon River a growing wild 
fishery on the Black River and ice fishing on the St. 
Lawrence. More than 600 waterfront services line 

the Nautical Seaway Trail. Trailwide tournaments 
offer large prizes. 

More than two dozen lighthouses stand guard 
along the trail's freshwater coastline. Several have 
public museums: Dunkirk, Old Fort Niagara, Thirty- 
Mile Point, Charlotte-Genesee, Old Sodus and 
Tibbetts Point, and Buffalo Main Light, which has a 
walking trail of interest. Museum sites show and tell 
of shipwrecks and lives saved, the evolution of water 
travel, and the life of the seagoing adventurer. 
Oswego Lighthouse can be seen from the ramparts 
of Fort Ontario, a site sought by the British, French 
and Americans. 

Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown is a National 
Historic Site, dating to 1679. Original stone buildings 
backdrop a "living" museum featuring the pageantry 
of daily military drills and demonstrations by cos- 
tumed soldiers. Special events include reenactments 
of early 18th century barracks life. The Seaway Trail 
Guide to the War of 1812 is an excellent self-touring 
companion to 42 locations and events of that era. 

A diverse wildlife population awaits birdwatchers. 

Pristine, serene 
Saranac Lalie lies along 
the Olympic Trail. 

photographers, walkers, bicyclists and nature lovers. 
The region boasts New York's first three Important 
Bird Areas designated by the National Audubon 
Society. At three zoos, numerous state parks and 
wildlife management areas, botanical gardens and 
habitats trailwide, see a doe and fawns, hear wolves 
howl, watch elk wade in water, and visit western New 
York's only rainforest. The Seaway Trail Wildgulde 
to Natural History details the diverse habitats and 
seasons and describes 127 sites of natural interest. 

For more information about traveling New York 
State's Seaway Trail and its year-round events and 
festivals, call 1-800-SEAWAY-T. 

The Adirondack North Country byways follow 
nature's contours, paralleling ancient river valleys 
and geological fault lines, and winding through the 
lake country and glacial lowlands, rugged mountain 
passes, and terraced plateaus. 

Each byway promises great views and unlimited 
photo opportunities. North Country roadways also 
trace history's contours, introducing travelers to 
tales of Iroquois hunters, soldiers, pioneers, loggers, 
miners, trappers, painters, writers and philosophers. 
Exciting travel opportunities await along each 
Adirondack byway. 

The Champlain Trail Scenic Byway runs along one 
of the most popular attractions in the Adirondacks- 
Lake Champlain. The valley's unique charm is 
captured in its history, recreation opportunities, 
quaint towns and villages. Running the length of 
the 121-mile Lake Champlain, the Champlain 
Trail features miles of sandy beaches, quaint 
historic villages and unique glimpses of the Adiron- 
dack Mountains. Begin your travels along the trail on 
Route 4 in Schuylerville, then head north to Fort 
Edward. The Old Fort House Museum was once an 
important outpost during the French and Indian Wan 
As you travel into Ticonderoga, look for a right turn 
on Route 74 that heads east toward Fort Ticonderoga. 
The fort, a national historic landmark, offers a 
museum, guided tours, artillery demonstrations, 
encampments, and fife and drum corps. 

The Colonial Trail offers a memorable 200-mile 
scenic driving tour, linking the historic Mohawk Valley 
with colonial fortresses, two of the largest bodies of 
water in the North Country region, natural health 




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spas, and the Olympic village. Beginning in the town 
of Scotia, head north on Route 50 to the historic 
communities of Ballston Spa and Saratoga Springs. 
The Saratoga Race Course was opened in 1863, 
beginning a thriving tradition of thoroughbred racing. 

Heading east on Route 29, you might make a side trip 
to the Saratoga Battlefields, or pick up Route 4 north 
toward Glens Falls. There, you can stop at the Hyde 
Museum to view European art and antique furniture 
assembled within a 1912 Renaissance villa. Continue 
along Route 9 to the resort village of Lake George, 
renowned for its shoreline hotels and steamboats as well 
as such cultural attractions as the Courthouse Gallery Arts 
Project, the Lake George Dinner Theater, and the Lake 
George Opera Festival. It is also the site of the Americade, 
one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the East. 

Horse lovers, adventure seekers, and families on 
vacation will love the 40-mile Dude Ranch Trail. Start 
your journey in the resort village of Lake George. 
Follow Route 9N out of the village and head along the 
western shore of Lake George toward Diamond Point. 
From Diamond Point, head west on County Route 35 
to Warrensburg. Situated at the confluence of the 
Schroon and Hudson rivers, the quaint town of 
Warrensburg is a must stop for antique buffs. Head 
across the Hudson River to Lake Luzerne. The final 
jaunt of the Dude Ranch Trail runs along Route 9N 
between Lake Luzerne and Lake George. Along this 
stretch, there are endless opportunities for camping 
and hiking. Just south of the Village of Lake George, 
look for access to the Prospect Mountain Memorial 
Highway This five-and-a-half-mile scenic roadway will 
take you to a 2,030-foot summit with breathtaking 
views of Lake George and the 
Adirondack wilderness. 

Stretching from Lake 
Ontario to Lake Champlain, 
the Olympic Trail is 170 miles 
of continuous scenic and 
recreational attractions, including 
the Village of Lake Placid- 
the site of the 1932 and 1980 
Winter Olympic Games. The 
trail begins in Sackets Harbor 
and concludes in Keeseville. 
Along the way you'll discover 
War of 1812 history, the bustling 
city of Watertown and beautiful 
Saranac Lake. §* 

The Adirondack 
~ region offers 
t views,. 

This special editorial/advertising supplement was created by the 
Natural Historv Special Sections Department and did not involve 
the magazine's editorial staff. WRITER Kathryn Brennan 
DESIGN Mindy Phelps Stanton PHOTOGRAPHY New York State 
photographs © NYS Department of Economic Development 

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Latitude 43°48.491' North, Longitude 70°09.844' West • 800.452.5931 

26 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

Jim Bowie's Letter 
& Bill Buckner s Legs 

In history, sports, and evolutionary biology, a good story 
with heroic overtones may overpower the facts. 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

Dawn at the Alamo, by Henry Arthur McArdle, 1905 

Charlie Croker, former 
football hero of Georgia 
Tech and recently bank- 
rupted builder of the new 
Atlanta — a world of schlocky, souUess 
office towers, now largely unoccupied 
and hemorrhaging money — seeks in- 
spiration, as his world disintegrates, 
from the one item of culture that stirs 
his Hmited inner self a painting (origi- 
nally done to illustrate a children's 
book, "the only book Charlie could 
remember his father and mother ever 
possessing") by N. C. Wyeth of "Jim 
Bowie rising up from his deathbed to 
fight the Mexicans at the Alamo." On 
"one of the happiest days of his entire 
hfe," Chariie spent $190,000 at a 
Sotheby's auction to buy this arche- 
typal image for a man of action. He 

then mounted his treasure in the ulti- 
mate shrine for successful men of our 
age: above the ornate desk on his pri- 
vate jet. 

In his latest novel, A Man in Full, 
Tom Wolfe describes how Croker, his 
prototype for redneck moguls, draws 
strength from the inspirational painting: 

And so now, as the aircraft roared and 
strained to gain altitude, Charlie 
concentrated on the painting of Jim 
Bowie . . . as he had so many times 
before. . . . Bowie, who was already 
dying, lay on a bed. . . . He had 
propped himself up on one elbow. 
With his other hand he was 
brandishing his famous Bowie knife at 
a bunch of Mexican soldiers. . . . It 
was the way BouHe's big neck and his 

jaws jutted out toward the Mexicans 
and the way his eyes blazed defiant to 
the end, that made it a great painting. 
Never say die, even when you're 
dying, was what that painting said. . . . 
He stared at the indomitable Bowie 
and waited for an infusion of courage. 

Nations need heroes, and Jim 
Bowie did die in action at the Alamo, 
along with Davy Crockett and about 
180 fighters for Texian (with the / then 
included in the name) independence, 
under the command of William B. 
Travis, an articulate twenty-six-year- 
old lawyer with a lust for martyrdom 
combined with a fearlessness that 
should not be disparaged, whatever 
one may think of his judgment. In fact, 
I have no desire to question Bowie's le- 
gitimate status as a hero at the Alamo 
at all, but I do wish to exphcate his 
virtues by debunking the legend por- 
trayed in CharHe Croker's painting and 
by suggesting that our admiration 
should flow for quite difierent reasons 
that have never been hidden but that 
the legend leads us to disregard. 

The debunking of canonical leg- 
ends ranks as a favorite intellectual 
sport for all the usual (and ever so 
human) motives of one-upmanship, 
aggressivity within a community that 
denies itself the old-fashioned expres- 
sion of genuine fisticuffs, and the sim- 
ple pleasure of getting details right. But 
such debunking also serves a vital 


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28 THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

scholarly purpose in identifying and 
correcring serious pitfalls in our favored 
styles of argument. Evolution has tuned 
our brain for special sensitivity in the 
recognition of patterns. The further 
development of human consciousness 
extended this inlierent sensitivity into a 
propensity for organizing patterns as 
stories and then for explaining the 
world in terms of the narratives ex- 
pressed in these tales. For reasons both 
behind and beyond the cultural partic- 
ulars of individual groups, humans tend 
to construct their stories along a lim- 
ited number of favored pathways that 
seem to grant both usefiil sense and sat- 
isfying meaning to the confiision (and 
often to the tragedy) of Hfe in our com- 
plex surrounding world. 

Stories, in other words, "go" in 
only a Hmited number of strongly pre- 
ferred ways, under the controUing in- 
fluence of two particularly deep biases: 
first, a theme of directionaHty (Hnked 
events proceeding in an ordered se- 
quence, not an aimless wandering- 
back, forth, and sideways — to 
nowhere) and, second, a sense of moti- 
vation or definite reasons (whether we 
judge them good or bad) propelling 
the sequence. When a particular story 
treats the action of our own species, 
these motivations wiU be rooted di- 
rectly in human purposes. But tales 
about nonconscious creatures or inani- 
mate objects must also provide a surro- 
gate for valor (or dishonorable intent, 
for dystopian tales) — as in the "virtue" 
of evolutionary principles that dictate 
the increasing general complexity of 
Hfe or the "lamentable inexorability" 
of thermodynamics in guaranteeing 
the eventual burnout of the Sun. In 
summary, and at the risk of oversimpli- 
fication, we prefer to explain pattern 
in terms of directionaUty and causation 
in terms of valor. 

I will refer to the small set of primal 
tales based upon these deep biases as 
canonical stories. Our strong propensity 
for expressing all histories, be they 
human, organic, or cosmic, in terms of 

canonical stories would not entail such 
enormous problems for science (but 
might be viewed instead as simply hu- 
morous in exposing the foibles ofHomo 
sapiens) if two properties of mind and 
matter didn't promote this potentially 
harmless idiosyncrasy into a pervasive 
bias actively derailing our hopes for un- 
derstanding events that unfold in time. 
(The explanation of temporal sequences 
defines the primary task of a large sub- 
set among our scientific discipHnes: the 
so-caUed historical sciences of geology, 
anthropology, evolutionary biology, 
cosmology, and many others. Thus, if 
the lure of canonical stories bUghts our 
general understanding of historical se- 

they are distributed effectively at ran- 
dom with respect to Earth's position in 
space. An absolutely even spacing of 
stars, yielding no perceivable clumps at 
all, would require some fairly fancy 
and obviously nonexistent rules of de- 
terministic order.) Thus, if our minds 
obey an almost irresistible urge to de- 
tect patterns and then to explain those 
patterns in the causal terms of a few 
canonical stories, our quest to under- 
stand the sources (often random) of 
order vwU be stymied. 

As for mind, even when we can at- 
tribute a pattern to conventional non- 
random reasons, we often fail to appre- 
hend both the richness and the nature 

Sam Houston ordered Jim Bowie to 
destroy the Alamo and withdraw, 
but Bowie decided to defend it. 

Death of Bowie, by Louis Eyth, ca. 1878 

quences, much of what we call science 
labors under a mighty impediment.) 

As for matter, many patterns and 
sequences in our complex world owe 
their apparent order to the luck of the 
draw within random systems. (We flip 
five heads in a row once every thirty- 
two sequences, on average. Stars 
clump into patterns in the sky because 

of these causes because the lure of 
canonical stories leads us to entertain 
only a small subset within the full 
range of legitimate hypotheses for ex- 
plaining the recorded events. Even 
worse, since we cannot observe every- 
thing in the blooming and buzzing 
confusion of the world's surrounding 
richness, the organizing power of 

> > 



< < 




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York, Office of the Moyor, the Speaker and the Council of the City of New York, and the Office of the Monbotton Borough President. Significant educational and progromming support has been provided by 
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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

canonical stories leads us to ignore im- 
portant facts readily within our poten- 
tial view and to twist or misread the 
information that we do manage to 
record. In other words — and to sum- 
marize my principal theme in a single 
statement — canonical stories pre- 
dictably drive facts into definite and 
distorted pathways that validate the 
outlines and necessary components of 
these archetypal tales. We therefore fail 
to note important items "in plain 
sight," while we misread other facts by 
forcing them into preset mental chan- 
nels even when we retain a buried 
memory of actual events. 

This essay will illustrate how canon- 
ical stories have predictably relegated 
crucial information to misconstruction 
or invisibility in two great folktales of 
American history: Bowie's letter and 
Buckner's legs, as oddly (if eupho- 
niously) combined in my title. I will 
then extend the general message to 
argue that the allure of canonical stories 
acts as the greatest impediment to bet- 
ter understanding throughout the 
realm of historical science, one of the 
largest and most important domains of 
human intellectual activity. 

I.Jim Bowie's letter. How the canonical 
story of "All the brothers were valiant, and 
all the sisters virtuous" (a familiar quota- 
tion that first appears on the tomb of the 
Duchess of Newcastle, who died in 1673 
and now lies in Westminster Abbey) has 
hidden a vital document in plain sight. 
The Alamo of San Antonio, Texas, was 
designed not as a fortress but as a mis- 
sion built by eighteenth-century Fran- 
ciscans. Today the Alamo houses ex- 
hibits and artifacts, most recalling the 
death of all Texian defenders in Gen- 
eral Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna's as- 
sault on March 6, 1836, after nearly 
two weeks of siege by forces outnum- 
bering the Texians by at least ten to 
one. This defeat and martyrdom elec- 
trified the Texian cause, which tri- 
umphed less than two months later, 
when Sam Houston's men captured 
Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto 

on April 21 and then forced the Mex- 
ican general to barter Texas for his life 
and liberty. 

The Alamo's exhibits, estabhshed 
and maintained by the Daughters of 
the Republic of Texas and therefore 
more partisan than the usual (and, to 
my mind, generally admirable) fare 
that the National Park Service provides 
in such venues, tells the traditional tale, 
as I shall do here. (Mexican sources, no 
doubt, purvey a different but equally 
traditional account from another per- 
spective.) I shall focus on the relation- 
ship of Bowie and Travis, for my skep- 
ticism about the canonical story 
focuses on a fascinating letter, written 
by Bowie and prominently displayed in 
the Alamo's official presentation but 
strangely disregarded to the point of 

In December 1835, San Antonio 
fell to Texian forces in fierce fighting 
with Mexican troops under General 
Martin Perfecto de Cos. On January 

and adventure on the Texian frontier. 
(Mexico had encouraged settlement of 
the Texian wilderness by all who 
would work the land and swear alle- 
giance to the liberal constitution of 
1824, but the growing Anglo majority 
had risen in revolt, spurred by the usual 
contradictory motives of lust for con- 
trol and love of freedom, as expressed 
in anger at Santa Anna's gradual abro- 
gation of constitutional guarantees.) 

Bowie commanded the volunteers, 
while Travis led the "official" army 
troops. A vote among the volunteers 
overwhelmingly favored Bowie's con- 
tinued leadership, so the two men 
agreed upon an uneasy sharing of au- 
thority, with all orders to be signed by 
both. This arrangement became irrele- 
vant, and Travis assumed fiJl command, 
when Bovwe fell ill with clearly termi- 
nal pneumonia and a slew of other ail- 
ments just after the siege began, on 
February 23. In fact, Charlie Croker's 
favorite painting notwithstanding, 

Travis drew a line in the sand, the 
legend goes, and invited all willing 
defenders of the Alamo to cross it. 

17, 1836, Sam Houston ordered Jim 
Bowie and some thirty men to enter 
San Antonio, destroy the Alamo, and 
withdraw the Texian forces to more 
defendable ground. But Bovde, after 
surveying the situation, disagreed for 
both strategic and symbolic reasons 
and decided to fortify the Alamo in- 
stead. The arrival, on February 3, of 
thirty additional men under the com- 
mand of William B. Travis strength- 
ened Bowie's decision. 

But tension inevitably developed 
between two such different leaders: the 
forty-year-old, hard-drinking, fear- 
lessly independent but eminently prac- 
tical and experienced Bowie and the 
twenty-six-year-old, troubled, and 
vainglorious Travis, who had left wife 
and fortune in Alabama to seek fame 

Bowie may have been comatose or even 
already dead when Mexican forces 
broke through on March 6. He may 
have made his legendary last "stand" in 
supine position, propped up in his bed 
with pistols in hand, but he could not 
have mounted more than a symbolic 
final defense, and his legendary knife 
could not have reached past the Mexi- 
can bayonets in any case. 

The canonical story of valor at the 
Alamo features two incidents, both 
centered upon Travis, v^dth one admit- 
ted as legendary by all serious histori- 
ans and the other based upon a stirring 
letter, committed to memory by nearly 
all Texas schoolchildren ever since. As 
for the legend, when Travis realized 
that no reinforcements would arrive 
and that all his men would surely die if 

tlicy defended the Alamo by force of 
.inns (for Santa Anna had clearly stated 
Ills terms of no mercy or sparing of life 
\\ithoiit unconditional surrender), he 
c.illed a meeting, drew a line in the 
^.lnd, and then invited all willing de- 
tenders ot the Alamo to cross the line 
to his side, while permitting cowards 
and doubters to scale the wall and 
make their inglorious exit (as one man 
did). In this venerable legend, Jim 
Bowie, too weak to stand, asked his 
men to carry his bed across the line. 
Well, Travis may have made a speech at 
the relevant time, but no surviving 
witness (several women and children 
and one slave) ever reported the storv'. 
(The tale apparendy originated about 
forty years later, supposedly told by the 
single man who accepted Travis's op- 
tion to escape.) 

As for the familiar letter, few can 
read Travis's missive with a dry eye, 
while even the most skeptical of Alamo 
historians heaps honor upon this docu- 
ment of February 24, carried by a 
courier (who broke through the Mexi- 
can lines) to potential reinforcements 
but addressed to "The People ot Texas 
and All Americans in the World." (For 
example, Ben H. Proctor describes 
Travis as "egotistical, proud, vain, with 
strong feelings about his own destiny, 
about glon,^ and personal mission . . . 
trouble in every sense of the w-ord," but 
judges this missive "one of the truly re- 
markable letters of history, treasured by 
lovers of libertv' everywhere." [See 
Proctor's pamphlet The Battle of tlie 
Alamo, pubUshed b)- the Texas State 
Historical Association in 1986.]) 

/ am besieged, by a thousand or more 
of the Mexicans under Santa Anna — 
/ have sustained a continual 
bombardment & cannonade f'r 24 
hours & have not lost a man — Tlic 
enemy has demanded a surrender at 
discretiofi, othent'ise, the garrison arc 
to be put to the sword, if the fort is 
taken — / have answered the demand 
with a camion shot, & our flag still 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

waves proudly from the ii'alls — I shall 
never surrender or retreat. Tlien, I 
call on you in the name of Liberty, of 
patriotism & everything dear to the 
American character, to come to our aid, 
ii'ith all dispatch — Tlie enemy is 
receiving reinforcements daily & will 
no doubt increase to three or four 
thousand in four or five days. If this 
call is neglected, I am determined to 
sustain myself as long as possible & 
die like a soldier who never forgets 
what is due to his own honor & that 
of his countr)^VICTORY OR 

Although a small group of thirty- 
two men did arrive to reinforce the 
Alamo, their heroic presence as cannon 
and bayonet fodder could not alter the 
course of events, while a genuine force 
of potential difference (several hundred 
men stationed at nearby Gohad) never 
came to Travis's aid, for complex rea- 
sons stiU under intense historical de- 
bate. Every Texian fighter died in 
Santa Anna's attack on March 6. (Ac- 
cording to the usual legend, all the 
men fell in action. But substantial, if 
inconclusive, evidence indicates that 
six men may have surrendered at the 
hopeless end, only to be summarily 
executed by Santa Anna's direct order. 
The probable presence of Davy 
Crockett within this group accounts 
for the disturbing effect and emotional 
weight of this persistent tale.) 

As something of an Alamo buff and 
as a frequent visitor to the site in San 
Antonio, I have long been bothered 
and intrigued by a crucial document — 
a letter by the Alamo's other leader, 
Jim Bowie — that seems to provide 
quite a different perspective on the 
siege but doesn't fit within the canoni- 
cal legend and hardly receives a men- 
tion in any official account at the 
shrine itself. Bowie's letter thus re- 
mains "hidden in plain sight" — sitting 
in its own proininent glass case right in 
the main hall of the on-site exhibition. 
This curious status as prominently dis- 

played but utterly passed over has fasci- 
nated me for twenty years and pro- 
vided the inspiration for this essay (de- 
spite the almost absurdly long gestation 
time). I have, in three visits to the 
Alamo spanning fifteen years, bought 
every popular account of the battle for 
sale at the extensive gift shop. I have 
read these obsessively and can assert 

the Mexicans had suggested a parley. 
In various versions of the story, Santa 
Anna's forces also raised a white flag — 
the equally traditional signal for a par- 
ley — either accidentally or purpose- 
frilly and either before or after Travis's 
cannon shot, or else a Mexican soldier 
sounded the standard bugle call for an 
ofricial invitation to negotiations.) 

A healthy and practical Bowie 

might have negotiated an honorable 

surrender at no great cost to 

the Texian cause. 

that Bowie's letter, while usually ac- 
knowledged, receives short shrift in 
most conventional descriptions. 

Let us return to a statement in 
Travis's celebrated letter — "the enemy 
has demanded a surrender. ... I have 
answered the demand with a cannon 
shot" — and fill in some surrounding 
events. The basic outline has not been 
disputed. When Santa Anna entered 
town with his army and began his siege 
on February 23, he unfiirled a blood- 
red flag — the traditional demand for 
immediate surrender, with extermina- 
tion as the consequence of refrisal — 
from the tower of the Church of San 
Fernando. Travis, without consulting 
his co-commander, fired the Alamo's 
largest cannon, an eighteen-pounder, 
in defiant response, just as he boasted in 
his famous letter written the next day. 

The complexities that threaten the 
canonical story now intrude. Although 
Santa Anna had issued his uncompro- 
mising and blustering demand in a 
pubUc display, many accounts (filled 
with different details but all pointing in 
the same credible direction) indicate 
that he also proposed a parley for ne- 
gotiations with the Alamo defenders. 
(Even if Santa Anna didn't issue this 
call, the canonical story takes its strong 
hit just from the undisputed fact that 
Bowie, for whatever reason, thought 

In any case, Bowie, who by most 
accounts was fiirious at Travis for the 
impetuous bravado and clearly coun- 
terproductive nature of his purely sym- 
bolic cannon shot, grabbed a piece of 
paper and wrote, in Spanish and signed 
with a faltering hand (for Bowie was 
already 01 but not yet prostrate and stiU 
capable of leadership), the "invisible" 
letter that just won't mesh with the 
canonical story and therefore remains 
"hidden" on prominent display at the 
Alamo. I cite the frill text of Bowie's 
letter, in the translation given in Clif- 
ford Hopewell's biography Ja/Jie^ Bowie: 
Texas Fighting Man (Eakin Press, 1994): 

Because a shot was fired from a 
cannon of this fort at the time a red 

fiag was raised over the tower, and 
soon afterward having been informed 
that your forces would parley, the same 
not having been understood before the 
mentioned discharge of cannon, I wish 
to know if, in effect, you have called 

for a parley, and with this object 
dispatch my second aide, Benito 

fames, under the protection of a white 

flag, which I trust will be respected by 
you and your forces. God and Texas. 

I don't want to exaggerate the 
meaning of this letter. I cannot assert a 
high probability for a different out- 

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come if Bowie had remained strong 
enough to lead and if Santa Anna had 
agreed to negotiations. Some facts dim 
the force of any speculation about a 
happier outcome that would have 
avoided a strategically senseless slaugh- 
ter with an inevitable mihtary result 
and would thus have spared the Hves of 
180 Texians (and probably twice as 
many Mexicans). For example, Bowie 

cially unconditional. Such, after all, has 
always been the way of war, as good of- 
ficers balance the need for inspirational 
manifestos against their even more im- 
portant moral and strategic responsibil- 
ity to avoid a "glory trap" of certain 
death. Competent leaders have always 
understood the crucial difference be- 
tween public proclamations and private 

Bostonians incurred the Curse of 

the Bambino in 1920, when the 

Red Sox sold Babe Ruth's contract. 

did not display optimal diplomacy in 
his note, if only because he originally 
wrote "God and the Mexican Federa- 
tion" in his signatory phrase (indicat- 
ing his support for the constitution of 
1824 and his continued loyalty to this 
earher Mexican government) but, in a 
gesture that can only be termed defi- 
ant, crossed out "the Mexican Federa- 
tion" and wrote "Texas" instead. 

More important, Santa Anna offi- 
cially refused the offer of Bowie's 
courier and sent back a formal re- 
sponse promising extermination with- 
out mercy unless the Texians surren- 
dered unconditionally. (Moreover, we 
cannot be confident that the Texians' 
Hves would have been spared even if 
the Alamo's defenders had surrendered 
without a fight. After aU, less than a 
month after the faU of the Alamo, 
Santa Anna executed several hundred 
prisoners — the very men who might 
have come to Travis's aid — after their 
surrender at GoUad.) 

In the conftision and recriminations 
between the two commands, Travis 
then sent out his own courier and re- 
ceived the same response but, accord- 
ing to some sources, with the crucial 
addition of an informal statement that 
if the Texians laid down their arms 
within an hour, their lives and property 
would be spared, even though the sur- 
render must be technically and offi- 

Thus, I strongly suspect that if 
Bowie had not become too iU to lead, 
some honorable solution would eventu- 
ally have emerged through private ne- 
gotiations, if only because Santa Anna 
and Bowie, as seasoned veterans, main- 
tained a high mutual regard beneath 
their strong personal dislike, whereas I 
can only imagine what Santa Anna 
thought of the upstart and self-aggran- 
dizing Travis. In this alternative and un- 
reahzed scenario, most of the brothers 
would have remained both valiant and 
alive. What resolution fits better with 

our common notions of morality and 
human decency: more than four hun- 
dred men slaughtered in a battle with an 
inevitable result (thus providing an 
American prototype for a claptrap 
canonical story about empty valor over 
honorable hving) or an utterly non- 
heroic, tough-minded, and practical so- 
lution that would have erased a great 
story from our books but restored hun- 
dreds of young men to the possibility of 
a frill life, complete with war stories told 
direcdy to grandchildren? 

Finally, one prominent Alamo fact 
(though rarely mentioned in this con- 
text) provides strong support for the 
supposition that wise military leaders 
usually reach private agreements in 
order to avoid senseless slaughter. Just 
three months earlier, in December 
1835, General Cos had made his last 
stand against Texian forces at exactly 
the same site — ^within the Alamo! But 
Cos, as a professional soldier, raised a 
white flag and agreed to terms with 
the Texian conquerors: he would sur- 
render, disarm, withdraw his men, re- 
treat southwestward over the Rio 
Grande, and not fight again. Cos 
obeyed the terms of his bargain, but 
after he had crossed the Rio Grande to 

Boston Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner in 1986 against the Detroit Tigers; his 
three-run double in that game helped put the Red Sox in the World Series. 

^,ltL■ty, S.iiu.i Aini^i (.Ic'i 11,11 klcd his rc- 
tiini to .Ktiw iliily. I lu^, tlic s.inic 
(IciKTal Cios — alive, kicking, and 
fighting — led one of the companies 
tliat recaptured the Alamo on iVlarch 
(). Travis would have cut sucii a dash- 
ing figure at San Jacinto! 

_'. Bill Bikkiwr's let's. Hoir ilw uiiioiii- 
Kil story of "But for this" hits driven facts 
that ii'c uin till easily recall into a false ver- 
sion dictated by the needs oj iiarratit'e. Any 
tan ot tlic Boston Red Sox can recite 
chapter and verse of a woetlil tale, a 
canonical story in the land of the bean 
and the cod, called the Curse of the 
Bambino. The Sox established one of 
Major League Baseball's most successful 
franchises of the early twentieth cen- 
tury. But the Sox won their last World 
Series way back in 1918. A particular 
feature of all subsequent losses has con- 
vinced Boston fans that their team 
labors under an infamous curse, initi- 
ated in January 1920, when Boston 
owner Harr)- Frazee simply and cyni- 
cally sold the team's greatest player — 
the best left-handed pitcher in baseball 
but soon to make his truly indehble 
mark on the opposite path of power 
hitting — for straight cash needed to fi- 
nance a flutter on a Broadway show 
and not for any advantages or compen- 
sation in traded players. Moreover, 
Frazee sold Boston's hero to the hated 
enemy, the New York Yankees. This 
man, of course, soon acquired the tide 
Sultan of Swat: the Bambino, George 
Herman "Babe" Ruth. 

The Red Sox have played in four 
World Series (1946, 1967, 1975, and 
1986) and several play-ofl series since 
then, and they have always lost in the 
most heartbreaking manner — by com- 
ing within an inch of the finish line 
and then self-destructing. Enos 
Slaughter, of the rival St. Louis Cardi- 
nals, scored fironi first on a single in the 
decisive game of the 1946 World Se- 
ries. In 1975 the Sox lost game 7 after 
a miraculous victory in game 6, 
capped by Bernie Carbo's three-run 
homer to tie the score, and won in 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

extra innings by Carlton Fisk when he 
managed to overcome the laws of 
physics by body English and cause a 
ball that he had clearly hit out of 
bounds to curve into the left-field foul 
pole for a home run. 

And so the litany goes. But all fans 
v^dU tell you that the worst moment of 
utter incredibility — the defeat that de- 
fies any tale of natural causality and 
must therefore record the operation of a 
true curse — terminated game 6 in the 
1986 World Series. (Look, I'm not even 
a Sox fan, but I still don't allow anyone 
to mention this event in my presence; 
the pain remains too great!) The Sox, 
leading the Series 3—2 and requiring 
only this victory for their first Ring 
since 1918, entered the last inning with 
a comfortable three-run lead. Their 
pitcher quickly got the first two outs. 
The Sox staff had peeled the foU off the 
champagne bottles but, remembering 
the curse, had not yet popped the corks. 
The Mets management had already, and 
graciously, flashed "Congratulations 
Red Sox" in neon on the scoreboard. 
But the faithful multitude of fans, 
known as Red Sox Nation, remained 
glued to their television sets in exquisite 
fear and trembling. 

And the curse unfolded, with an 
intensity and cruelty heretofore not 
even imagined. In a series of scratch 
hits, bad pitches, and terrible judg- 
ments, the Mets managed to score two 
runs. (I mean, even a batting-practice 
pitcher, even you or I, could have got- 
ten someone out for the final victory!) 
Reliever Bob Stanley, a good man 
dogged by bad luck, came in and 
threw a wild pitch to bring the tying 
run home. (Some, including yours 
truly, would have scored the pitch as a 
passed ball, but let's leave such con- 
tentious irrelevancies aside for the mo- 
ment.) And now, with two outs, a man 
on third, and the score tied, Mookie 
WUson steps to the plate. 

BiU Buckner, the Sox's gallant first 
baseman and a veteran with a long and 
distinguished career, should not even 

have been playing in the field. For 
weeks, manager John McNamara had 
been benching Buckner for defensive 
purposes during the last few innings of 
games with substantial Red Sox leads, 
for after a long and hard season, Buck- 
ner's legs were shot and his stride 
gimpy. In fact, he could hardly bend 
down. But the sentimental McNamara 
wanted his regular players on the field 
when the great (and seemingly in- 
evitable) moment arrived, so Buckner 
stood at first base. 

I shudder as I describe the outcome 
that every baseball fan knows so well. 

on third hurried home with the win- 
ning run — not to the side of his body, 
and not under his lunging glove as he 
dived to the right or left for a difficult 
chance, but right through his legs! The 
seventh and concluding game hardly 
mattered. Despite brave rhetoric, no 
fan expected the Sox to win (hopes 
against hope, to be sure, but no real 
thoughts of victory). They lost. 

This narration may drip with my 
feelings, but 1 have presented the 
straight facts. The narrative may be 
good and poignant enough in this ac- 
curate version, but this factual tale can- 

Bill Buckner's bobble was trivial, but 

fans still blame him for the Sox's 

1986 World Series defeat. 

Buckner's Ignominious moment occurred when Mookie Wilson's easy, tapped ball went 
right between Buckner's legs to the outfield, allowing a runner on third to score. 

Stanley, a great sinker-ball pitcher, did 
exactly what he had been brought in to 
accompHsh. He threw a wicked sinker 
that Wilson could only tap on the 
ground toward first base for an easy out 
to cap the damage and end the inning 
with the score still tied, thus granting 
the Sox hitters an opportunity to 
achieve a comeback and victory. But 
the ball bounced right through Buck- 
ner's legs into the outfield as the man 

not satisfy the lust of the relevant 
canonical story for an evident reason. 
The canonical story of Buckner's tra- 
vail must follow a scenario that might 
be called "But for this." In numerous 
versions of "But for this," a large and 
hugely desired result fails to material- 
ize — and the absolutely opposite reso- 
lution, both factually and morally, un- 
folds instead — because one tiny and 
apparently inconsequential piece of the 

story tails tt) t.ill into place, usually as a 
consequence of human error or 
malfeasance. "But for this" can brook 
no nuances, no complexity', no depar- 
ture from the central meaning and 
poignant traged\- that an entire baletul 
outcome Hows absolutely and entirely 
from one tiny accident ot history. 

"But for this" must theretbre drive 
the tale of Bill Buckners legs into the 
only version that can validate the canon- 
ical story. In short, poor Bill must be- 
come the one and only cause and focus 
of ulrimate defeat or victon,-. That is, if 
Buckner t'lelds the b<ill properly, the Sox 
win their first World Series since 1918 
and eradicate the Curse of the Bambino. 
But if Buckner bobbles the ball, the 
Mets win the Series instead, and the 
curse continues in an even more intense 
and paintlil way. For Buckners miscue 
marks the unkindest bounce ot all, the 
most improbable, trivial Htde error sus- 
tained bv a good and admired man. 
What hath God wrought? 

Except Buckners error did not 
determine the outcome of the World 
Series — for one little reason, detailed 
above but all too easily forgotten. 
When Wilson's grounder bounced be- 
tween Buckners legs, the score was al- 
ready tied! (Not to mention that this 
game was the sixth and, at worst for 
the Sox, the penultimate game of the 
Series, not the seventh and necessarily 
final contest. The Sox could always 
have won game 7 and the entire Series, 
no matter how the negotiations of 
God and Satan proceeded over Bill 
Buckner, the modern incarnation of 
lob, in game 6.) If Buckner had fielded 
the ball cleanly, the Sox would not 
have won the Series at that moment. 
They would only have secured the op- 
portunity to do so if their hitters came 
through in extra innings. 

We can easily excuse any patriotic 
American without credentials as a pro- 
fessional historian (or any casual visitor, 
for that matter) for buying into the 

canonical story of the Alamo — "All the 
brothers were valiant" — and not learn- 
ing that a healthy and practical Bowie 
might have negotiated an honorable 
surrender at no great cost to the Texian 
cause. After all, the last potential eye- 
witness has been underground for well 
over a century. We have no records be- 
yond the written reports, and historians 
cannot trust the account of any eyewit- 
ness, for the supposed obser\'ations fall 
into a mire of contradiction, recrimina- 
tion, self-interest, aggrandizement, and 
the quintessentiaUy human propensity' 
for spinning a tall tale. 

But any baseball tan with the legal 
right to sit in a bar and argue the issues 
over a mug of the house product 
should be able to recall the uncompli- 
cated and truly indisputable facts of 
Bill Buckners case with no trouble at 
all — often, with the force of eyewitness 
memory, either exulting in impossibly 
fortuitous joy or groaning in the agony 
of despair and utter disbeHef before a 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

television set. (To fess up, I should have 
been at a fancy dinner in Washington, 
but I "got sick" instead and stayed in 
my hotel room. In retrospect, I should 
not have stood in bed.) 

The subject attracted my strong in- 
terest because within a year after the 
actual event, I began to note a pattern 
in the endless commentaries that have 
hardly abated, even fifteen years later — 
for Buckner's tale can be made relevant 
by analogy to almost any misfortune 
under a writer's current examination, 
and Lord only knows we experience 
no shortage of available sources of pain. 
Many stories reported, and continue to 
report, the events accurately — and why 
not, for the actual tale packs sufficient 
punch, and any fan should be able to 
extract the correct account directly 
from living and active memory? But I 
began to note that a substantial per- 
centage of reports had subtly (and quite 
unconsciously, I'm sure) driven the ac- 
tual events into a particular false ver- 

and they have all responded honorably 
with a statement hke "Omigod, what a 
jerk I am! Of course the score was tied. 
Jeez [sometimes bolstered by an invo- 
cation of Mary and Joseph as well] , I 
just forgot!") 

For example, a front-page story in 
USA Today of October 25, 1993, dis- 
cussed Mitch Williams's antics in the 
1993 World Series in largely unfair 
comparison with the hapless and 
blameless Bill Buckner: 

Williams may hump Bill Buckner 
from atop the goat list, at least for 
now. Buckner endured his nightmare 
Oct. 25, 1986. His Boston Red Sox 
were one out away from their first 
World Series title since 1918 when he 
let Mookie Wilson's grounder slip 
through his legs. 

Or this, from a list of Sox misfortunes 
published in the New York Post on Oc- 
tober 13, 1999, just before the Sox met 

I almost wince when I see the first 

appearance of vertebrates on land 

described as a conquest. 

sion: the pure "end member" of ulti- 
mate tragedy demanded by the 
canonical story "But for this." 

I keep a growing file of false reports, 
all driven by requirements of the canon- 
ical story, claiming that but for Buck- 
ner's legs, the Sox would have won the 
Series — forgetting the inconvenient 
complexity of a tied score at Buckner's 
ignominious moment and sometimes 
even forgetting that the Series still had 
another game to run. This misconstruc- 
tion appears promiscuously, both in 
hurried daily journalism and in rarefied 
books by the modey crew of poets and 
other assorted intellectuals who love to 
treat baseball as a metaphor for anything 
else of importance in human Hfe or the 
history of the universe. (I have written 
to several folks who made this error. 

the Yanks (and lost, of course) in their 
first fiiU series of postseason play: 

Mookie Wilson's grounder that rolled 
through the legs of Bill Buckner in 
Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. 
Ttiat happened after the Red Sox 
were just one out away from winning 
the World Series. 

For a more literary view between 
hard covers, consider the very last Hne 
of a lovely essay written by a true poet 
and devoted fan to introduce a beauti- 
ftiUy illustrated new edition of Casey at 
the Bat, the classic poem by Ernest L. 
Thayer about failure in baseball: 

Triumph's pleasures are intense but 
brief; failure remains with us forever, a 

iiuithciin\; iniriuruisi lOiiiinoii 
liuiiuiiiiiy. With Ciiscy itr till strike 
oiii. Althotii^h Bill liikhiir won a 
lliotiiiitid i^iiiius with his line drives 
atid brilliaiil fielding, he will endure in 
our memories in the ninth intiin}; oj 
the sixth i^tnne of ti 1 1 brld Series, one 
out to \io, as the hall inexpliiably, 
incluctably, and eternally rolls between 
his legs. 

But the nasty little destroyer of 
lovely canonical stories then pipes up, 
m his less mellifluous tones: "But I 
don't know how many outs would 
have followed or who would have 
won. The Sox had already lost the 
lead; the score was tied." Factuality 
embodies its own form ot eloquence, 
and gritty complexity' often presents an 
even more interesting narrative than 
the pure and archetypal "end mem- 
ber" version of our canonical stories. 
But something deep within us drives 
accurate messiness into the channels ot 
canonical stories — the primary impo- 
sitions of our minds upon the world. 

To any reader who now raises the 
legitimate issue of why I have cluttered 
a magazine of natural history with two 
stories about American history that 
bear no evident relevance to any 
overtly scientific question, I simply re- 
state my opening and general argu- 
ment: human beings are pattern-seek- 
ing, storytelling creatures. These 
mental propensities generally serve us 
well enough, but they also, and often, 
derail our thinking about all kinds of 
temporal sequences — in the natural 
world of geological change and the 
evolution of organisms as well as in 
human history — by leading us to cram 
the real and messy complexity of life 
into simpUstic channels of the few pre- 
ferred ways that human stories "go." I 
call these biased pathways canonical 
stories, and I argue that our preferences 
for tales about directionality (to explain 
patterns), generated by motivations of 
valor (to explain the causal basis of 
these patterns), have distorted our un- 

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THIS VIEW OF LIFE natural history 5/00 

derstanding of a complex reality where 
different kinds of patterns and different 
sources of order often predominate. 

I chose my two stories on pur- 
pose — Bowie's letter and Buckner's 
legs — to illustrate two distinct ways 
that canonical stories distort our read- 
ing of actual patterns: first, in the tale 
of Jim Bowie's letter, by relegating im- 
portant facts to virtual invisibility 
when they cannot be made to fit the 
canonical story (even though we do 
not hide the inconvenient facts them- 

years of the fossil record (while Homo 
sapiens hasn't yet endured for even half 
a miUion years — and remember that a 
thousand miUion makes a single bil- 
Uon). Not to mention that if we con- 
fine our attention to multicellular ani- 
mal life, insects represent about 80 
percent of all species, while only a fool 
would put money on us, rather than 
on them, as probable survivors a billion 
years hence. 

For the second imposition of 
canonical stories upon different and 

Something deep within us drives 

accurate messiness into the neat 

channels of canonical stories. 

selves and may even place them on 
open display, as in Bowie's letter at the 
Alamo) and, second, in the tale of BiU 
Buckner's legs, where we misstate eas- 
ily remembered and ascertainable facts 
in predictable ways because these facts 
did not unfold as the relevant canonical 
stories dictate. 

These common styles of error — 
hidden in plain sight and misstated to 
fit our canonical stories — arise as fre- 
quently in scientific study as in histor- 
ical inquiry. To cite, in closing, the 
obvious examples from our canonical 
misreadings of the history of life, we 
hide most of nature's diversity in plain 
sight when we spin our usual tales 
about increasing complexity as the 
central theme and organizing prin- 
ciple of both evolutionary theory and 
the actual history of Ufe. In so doing, 
we unfairly privilege the one recent 
and transient species that has evolved 
the admittedly remarkable mental 
power sufficient to ruminate upon 
such questions. 

This silly and parochial bias leaves 
the dominant and most successful 
products of evolution hidden in plain 
sight — the indestructible bacteria that 
have represented life's mode (most 
common design) for all 3.5 billion 

more complex patterns in the history 
of Ufe — predictable distortion to affirm 
preferred tales about valor — need I 
proceed any further than the conven- 
tional tales of vertebrate evolution that 
we all have read since childhood and 
that follow our Arthurian mythology 
about knights of old and men so bold? 
I almost wince when 1 find the first 
appearance of vertebrates on land or of 
insects in the air described as a con- 
quest, although this noun retains pride 
of place in our popular literature. 

And we stiU seem unable to shuck 
the image of dinosaurs as born losers 
vanquished by superior mammals, 
even though we know that dinosaurs 
prevailed over mammals for more than 
130 million years, starting from day 
one of mammaUan origins. Mammals 
gained their long delayed opportunity 
only when a major extinction, trig- 
gered by an extraterrestrial impact, re- 
moved the dinosaurs, for reasons that 
we do not fuUy understand but that 
probably bear no sensible relation to 
any human concept of valor or lack 
thereof. This cosmic fortuity gave 
mammals their chance, not because 
any intrinsic superiority (the natural 
analog of valor) helped them to 
weather this cosmic storm but largely, 

perhaps, because their small size (a side 
consequence of failure to compete 
with dinosaurs in environments suited 
for large creatures) gave mammals a 
lucky break in the form of ecological 
hiding room to hunker down. 

Until we abandon the siUy notion 
that the first amphibians, as conquerors 
of the land, somehow held more valor, 
and therefore embody more progress, 
than the vast majority of fishes that re- 
mained successfiilly in the sea, we will 
never understand the modahties and 
complexities of vertebrate evolution. 
Fish, in any case, encompass more than 
half of all vertebrate species today and 
might well be considered the most 
persistently successful class of verte- 
brates. So should we substitute a differ- 
ent canonical story called "There's no 
place Hke home" for the usual tale of 
conquest based on imperialistic models 
of commercial expansion? 

If we must explain the surrounding 
world by teUing stories — and I suspect 
that our brains do stick us in this par- 
ticular rut — let us at least expand the 
range of our tales beyond the canoni- 
cal to the quirky, for then we might 
learn to appreciate more of the rich- 
ness out there beyond our pale and 
usual ken while still honoring our 
need to understand in human terms. 
Robert Frost caught the role and ne- 
cessity of stories — and the freedom of- 
fered by unconventional tales — when 
he penned in 1942, in "The Lesson 
for Today," a brilliant epitome for a 
premature gravestone: 

And were an epitaph to be my story 
I'd have a short one ready for 

my own. 
I would have written of me on 
my stone: 
I had a lover's quarrel with the world. 

Stephen Jay Gould teaches biology, geology, 
and the history of science at Harvard Uni- 
versity. He is also Frederick P. Rose Hon- 
orary Curator in Invertebrates at the Amer- 
ican Museum of Natural History. 




Head for Kentucky and discover a realm 

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I of recreational, natural, historic, and 
' cultural attractions, Kentucky offers a 
rich variety of options for all vacationers. 

Bordered by seven states-Indiana, Ohio, West 
Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and 
Illinois-Kentucky is a diverse natural habitat. 
The Ohio River flows 664 miles along the 
northern and v^estern borders of the state. 

Kentucky's highest point is Black Mountain 
in Harlan County 4,145 feet above sea level; 
its lowest point, the Mississippi River in Fulton 
County 260 feet above sea level. Kentucky has 
more running water than any other mainland state. 
The flow of that water-in brooks, streams, 
rivulets, rivers, and lakes— frames much of what 
makes Kentucky so lush and alluring. 

The hills and hollows of the state's Eastern 
Highlands region were formed by water. Here 
"The Gap" refers to the Cumberland Passage, where 
Daniel Boone first entered this beautiful landscape. 
The Daniel Boone National Forest pays homage to 
both the man and the land he discovered. At Cum- 
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waterfall known as the "Niagara of the South." In 
the evening, some lucky travelers experience the 
natural wonder of a "moonbow," a rare nighttime 

The Big South Fori( National River and Recreation Area is just one of several ideal destinations for naturalists. 

vital urban centers, Louisville and Lexington. 
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a block from Waterfront Park, lies the city's 
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place to raise a thoroughbred or a carpet of grass so 
famous it has lent its name to the Bluegrass State, 
as well as a beloved American musical movement, 
The Heartland is home to both of Kentucky's most 

On May 6th, Louisville will become an interna- 
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Kentucky Derby To celebrate "the most exciting 
two minutes in sports," the city will host a multif ac- 
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minimarathon, the Pegasus Parade, the Great Balloon 
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driving tour. The Richmond Area Arts Center, 
housed in an 1 887 church on Lancaster at Water 
Street, is another great stop. Nine miles south- 
east of town lies the Central Kentucky Wildlife 


It pitted brother against brother, father against 
son. And its roots ran deep into Kentucky soil, in 
fact, exploring the rich and storied history of the 
Civil War right here in Kentucky could bring you 
as close to 1865 as you'll ever get. Because we 
feature more than 65 Civil War battlegrounds, 
famous battle reenactments throughout the year 
and some of America's best-preserved historic 
sites. For more information on Kentucky's incred- 
ible Civil War attractions and our many other 
wonders, just call for your free Kentucky Great 
Getaway Guide. 

For your free Getaway Guide 

Call 1-800-225-8747 

In KentuckVi the fl 
Civil War can be just 

as dramatic the 
second time around. 


...the place 
Corvettes caU 
home, is just 
south of 
Mammoth Cave 
and surrounded 
by breathtaking 
beauty and 
unique, historic 
attractions. Over 
300 restaurants 
and 2,500 
lodging rooms 
make this a 
perfect weekend 
getaway. Contact 
us for a free 
Visitor's Guide! 

Bowling Green Area 
Convention & Visitors Bureau 
352 Three Springs Road-NH 
Bowling Green, KY 42104 


On 1-75 minutes from Lexington! 

Enjoy pioneer Fort Boonesborough, 
the award winning Gibson Bay Golf 
Course, White Hall State Historic House, 
Bybee Pottery.Hummel Planetarium, 
WalkingTours, the Civil War Battle of 
RichmondTour and Valley View Ferry! 

\ •' Your FREE Visitor Guide: 




iscover geological wonders In Kentucky's caves. 

Millennia of flowing water have shaped 
the miraculous cave spaces of the region 

Management Area, great 
for rugged hiking and bird 
watching. The rolling terrain, 
old fields and wooded areas 
are a perfect habitat for 
non-game species. 

In the city of Newport, 
visitors to Kentucky can now 
experience something they 
never dreamed the state could 
offer-oceanic adventures. 
Opened just last year, 
the Newport Aquarium has 
quickly become one of the 
nation's most amazing attrac- 
tions, with one million gallons of fresh and salt 
water creating an ideal habitat for 1 1,000 marine 
animals. More than 60 exhibits showcase sharks, 
American alligators. King penguins and fish from 
all over the world. This state-of-the-art facility 
features five underwater walkways. These seam- 
less acrylic tunnels, designed specifically for this 
site, offer visitors an unobstructed view of the 
colorful creatures that surround them. Three areas 
feature acrylic flooring, providing a look down into 
the jaws of sharks and alligators. Visitors can also 
see one of the country's largest open-air shark 
exhibits: 380,000 gallons of water teeming with 
25 tropical sharks. For more information about 
Oceanic Adventures-Newport Aquarium, call 888- 

In South Central Kentucky visitors are invited 
to marvel at the state's Scenic Wonderlands. 
For millions of years, waters have forged vast 
holes in the land here, making this region an 
internationally renowned destination. Mammoth 
Cave National Park is the gateway to the largest 
known cave system in the world. The entire area 
around the 52,000-acre national park is full of 
caves to explore. Eleven different tours are offered 
each day including a tour for the disabled. Park 
rangers lead explorations of breathtaking sites 
with playful names like Fat Man's Misery Bottom- 
less Pit and Grand Central Station. These caves 
reveal a wealth of information about the region's 

natural history and have 
offered up more than 
a few prehistoric artifacts. 

Nearly 30 miles of the 
Green and Nolin Rivers 
wind their way through the 
park, offering some of the 
best canoe runs in the state. 
The river here supports an 
unusual diversity of fish, 
including five species found 
nowhere else in the world. 

In nearby Horse Cave, 
The American Cave Museum 
is an environmental education 
center offering exhibits on the cultural and natural 
resources associated with caves. A guided nature 
walk into the Hidden River Cave reveals the river 
flowing more than 1 00 feet beneath the earth 
as well as the remnants of an early hydroelectric 
system. Closed as a tourist attraction in 1 943, 
Horse Cave has been successfully restored, 
even luring back the rare blind cavef ish. 

Bowling Green's Lost River Cave, known locally as 
"Dead Man's Cave," offers boat tours through what 
many claim to be the world's shortest and deepest 
river. This river valley was evidently formed by the 
collapse of a large cave system, creating over 23 
acres of unique topographical features. While in the 
Lost River Cave and Valley area, take time to enjoy 
the beautiful nature trails, lined with over fifty 
varieties of trees and flowers, and visit the Butterfly 
House, the summer home of several colorful species. 

Yet another not-to-be-missed stop in the 
Scenic Wonderlands region is the Big South Fork 
National River and Recreation Area, a wilderness 
plateau with fantastic geological formations, and 
a train ride right out of your imagination. The 
area offers an accommodating range of resorts, 
campgrounds and marinas surrounding two of 
the finest pleasure boating and fishing lakes in 
the Eastern United States: Lake Cumberland 
and Dale Hollow Lake. The region's inviting 
Shakertown, located at South Union, is one of 
two restored Shaker sites in Kentucky 


Car aficionados won't want to miss the 
impressive National Corvette Museum in Bowling 
Green. In addition to its 68,000 square-foot 
display floor and 200-seat Chevrolet Theater, the 
museum also features an outdoor amphitheater for 
avariety of concerts and events, including 
the annual Corvette Celebration, held each 
Labor Day weekend. Also in Bowling Green, on 
the campus of Western Kentucky University 
lies the fascinating Kentucky Museum, tracing 
the state's rich history through historic artifacts, 
fine and decorative arts, toys, games, folkcrafts 
and photographs. 

Kentucky's Western Waterlands teem with 
opportunities for outdoor exploration. Kentucky 
Lake and Lake Barkley, connected by a free- 
flowing canal, together form one of the largest 
manmade bodies of water in the country The 
Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is a 40-mile- 
long peninsula, home to a notable National Park 
and World Biosphere Reserve, ideal for camping, 
fishing, and boating. 

Paducah, the last of the large Kentucky cities 
on the Ohio River's trek south, has more historic 
markers than any other city in the state. Since the 
opening of the Museum of the American Quilter's 
Society in 1991, Paducah has become known as 
'Quilt City, USA." Changing exhibits of antique and 
contemporary quilts are displayed in three galleries. 

Kentucky's plentiful natural resources are 
distilled in its signature spirit-bourbon. The 
Reverend Elijah Craig is credited with developing 
what would become known as bourbon whiskey 
in Georgetown, Kentucky in 1 789. Today his 
legacy lives on along The Bourbon Trail, a 
self-guided tour of seven distilleries: Austin 
Nichols (Wild Turkey); Four Roses; Heaven Hill; 
Jim Beam; Labrot & Graham; Buffalo Trace; 
and Maker's Mark. 



ds of the 

U.S. pop 



is with 

in a day 

's drive. 

Discover the Rich History of 
the Horse in Chinese Culture 


The Art of the Horse 
IN CnrNESE History 

May 1 -August 31 


at the Kentucky Horse Rark • Lexington, Kentucky 

International Museum of the Horse 

(800) 678-8813 • 

Kentucky's Cave Country 

ih-i ^» 

A Scenic WSkoiBRLAND! 

Mammoth Cave National F^rk« National Corvette Museum 
Festivals • Scenic Byways • History • Shopping 

Write for your 


Travel Department CA14. P.O. Box 2011. Frankfort. KY 40602 

1-&00-225-TRIP ext. CA14 






Headquarters of Imperial China Exhibit 





e may be exaggerating a little, bu 

veritable army of rare Chinese equestria 
rt and artifacts is arriving at the Kentuck 
orse Park in May 2000. And Louisville i 
jst a short drive from the exhibit 
fith plenty of hotels, restaurants, an 
ntertainment for you to invade aftenwarc 
For your FREE Greater Louisville Guide, 
call 1-888-LOUISVILLE. 

' l-uikt-flb' aoA MTcrmn Counly 

Believe It. 






Great accommodations for 
families of every species. 

Pristine natural beauty, wide-open spaces, 
animals roaming free — for generations, 
Kentucky's 49 State Parks have been a 
haven for nature. And with our cozy 
lodges, great dining, and action-packed 
recreation programs, for humans too. So 
make your next family getaway one with 

all the creature comforts 

Call i.800.255.PARK. #- c. . d l 
State Parks 

wiaie.' ' aiw.,. in Seasc 



Much more than a one-horse town, Lexington, 
Kentucky, is renowned for its truly monumental 
Kentucky Horse Park. This year, the Kentucky 
Horse Park's International Museum of the Horse 
will host the world premiere of "Imperial China: 
The Art of the Horse in Chinese History" 
exhibition, on display at the Kentucky Horse 
Park from May to August. The show traces 
3,000 years of Chinese history and culture. 

One of the largest exhibitions ever to travel 
from China to the U.S., "Imperial China: The 
Art of the Horse in Chinese History" 
is the product of more than a year 
of communication and two trips to 
China by Kentucky Horse Park 
officials to select the art and 
artifacts. The exhibition will feature 
more than 300 artifacts, valued 
at over $100, 000, 000. 

This unique exhibition will 
cover the Western Zhou 

In ancient China, figures of the horse 
adorned fine art and everyday objects, 

year, Kentucky hosts the 
Millennium's first great 
International exhihition. 

Dynasty (1027-771 BC) as well as the subse- 
quent dynasties through the Qing ( 1 644- 1911). 
Roughly 20 percent of the artifacts on 
display have never been exhibited in the United 
States. In fact, many of these items have never 
before been permitted to leave China. 

More than an artistic display, the exhibit 
will explore the historical, cultural and political 
significance of the horse in the unification of China 
and the exchange of equestrian culture with 
the Western world via the Silk Road. It also 
looks at advancements in horse accoutrements 
and training techniques and the use of the horse 
in leisure activities. 

The exhibit will feature items selected from 
museums throughout Shaanzi Province, capital 
of China for more than a millennium and home of 
the terra-cotta army of China's first emperor. 

To qualify to host an international exhibition 
of this magnitude, the museum had to meet 
extremely high standards. This truly magnificent 
show is considered by many officials in 
Kentucky to be the most significant 
international cultural event in the 
state's history 
The Kentucky Horse Park is 
located at Interstate 75, Exit 120, 
four miles north of Lexington. 
For more information about this 
exhibition, call the Kentucky 
Horse Park at 800-568-881 3 or 
visit its Web site at 
For information on travel to 
Kentucky call 800-225-8747 or • 

This special editorial/advertising supplement was created by the Natural History Special Sections Department 
and did not involve the magazine's editorial staff. WRITER Kathryn Brennan DESIGN Mindy Phelps Stanton 


With so much more to see, 

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when you have unlimited free admission. 

With your subscription to Natural History, you're 
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History. Because each issue of the magazine vividly 
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Yet visiting AMNH is a whole other experience. And one you'll 
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premiere of the Rose Center for Earth and Space with its Cullman 
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<©2o6o Bewsu^i 


Illustrations by Sally J. Bensusen 

On the Rebound 

Blovvii down, a blade of grass iises the wind's energy to bounce back. 

One of the biggest events in the 
history ot terrestrial plants 
took place 420 million years 
ago. Before then, all plants hugged the 
ground, as mosses and liverworts do 
today. Once plants had built strong 
stems and trunks, they could stand up- 
right and reach for the sun. But they 
faced new dangers. To support their 
own weight, they had to be stiff". Yet 
they also had to keep from snapping in a 
strong wind, and if they evolved to be 
more flexible, they might flop over like 
wet noodles. Difierent plants arrived at 
different solutions to this dilemma. 
Many trees, for instance, have built-m 
weak spots in their branches. As a result, 
a windstorm is more likely to prune a 
tree than to bring it crashing down. 

Some of the most elegant ways to 
fight the wind can be found in grass. A 
blade of grass — whether wheat, oat, 
rye, or the fescues growing in suburban 
lawns — consists of a slender, hollow, 
cylindrical stem rigid enough to stand 
upright. Its hollow shape allows grass to 

Thin disks stretch across the inside of a 
hollow grass stem. When the wind blows, 
the stem bends, squeezing the disks 
within. In response, the disks push back 
against the stem walls, keeping the stem 
from collapsing. When the wind passes, 
the disks regain their circular shape, and 
the blade springs back upright — most of 
the time, that is. In exceptionally strong 
winds or heavy rains, however, the disks 
may buckle permanently, leaving the 
grass to rot on the ground. 

grow much taller than a solid-stemmed 
plant with the same amount ot tissue. 
Blown by a gust ot wind, however, the 
blade bends, putting a lot of stress on its 
thin stem walls. Sometimes the stress is 
too much, and the blade buckles. (To 
see for yourself how thin-walled cyUn- 
ders buckle under stress, try bending a 
plastic straw.) Farmers are all too famil- 
iar with the problem, which they call 
lodging: a thunderstorm can destroy a 
valuable field of wheat or rye by 
knocking it flat to the ground. 

Most of the time, though, grass 
stands up straight again once a gust of 
wind has passed. Cornell University 
botanist Karl Niklas and his coworkers 
study the mechanical properties of 
grass, including those that help the 
plant avoid buclding. They have found 
that thin disks, stretching at regular in- 
tervals across the inside of the stem, 
prevent the hollow blade from collaps- 
ing at the bending point. Made of a 
springy material and light (accounting 
for only 2 percent of the blade's total 
weight), the disks act like bedsprings: 
the more they are squeezed, the more 
they push back against the walls of the 
stem. That outward force keeps the 
grass from caving in on itself 

Niklas has discovered an extra bene- 
tit to this design. As a blade bends, it 
changes shape: the cross section of an 
erect stem is circular, while one taken 
at the bending point is oval. If that oval 
becomes too compressed, the stem will 
collapse. But as the internal disks 
crumple, Niklas found, their springs- 
tissue stores up some of the winds en- 

ergy. When the wind lets up. the disks 
uncrumple, releasing the pent-up en- 
ergy. In the process, the stem regains its 
cylindrical shape and rebounds to its 
upright position. Grass doesn't sway in 
the wind so much as it springs. 

The leaves surrounding the stem 
provide additional resistance to buck- 
ling. Sprouting trom thm, crescent- 
shaped sheaths that grow alongside the 
disks and run partway around the plant's 
circumference, the leaves act like a gir- 
dle, their sheaths bracing the stem and 
absorbing some of the wind's impact. 

It grasses are so well engineered to 
resist the wind, why is lodging such a 
worry for farmers? The problem is that 
wheat and other crop grasses have been 
bred to bear bigger and bigger seed 
heads. The plants are now so top-heavy 
that they've overwhelmed their natural 
antibuckling design. One solution 
might be to breed grasses with more 
resilient disks in their stems. Another 
might be to breed them shorter, so that 
the seeds at their tips wouldn't exert so 
much force when the blades bend. 

Plant breeders aren't the only 
people who could benefit from a 
greater understanding of the biome- 
chanics of grass. Some engineers, in- 
spired by Niklas 's research, want to de- 
sign broom bristles that act like grass: 
with ever}' sweep, the bristles would 
bounce back upright on their own. 

Carl Ziiuiucr is the author of At the 
Water's Edge: Macroevolution and the 
Transformation of Life, amilable in 
paperback from Touchstone. 

50 FINDINGS natural history 5/00 

Take Two Beers 
and Call Me 
in 1,600 Years 

Ancient Nubians and Egyptians 
had a way with antibiotics. 

By George J. Armelagos 

Some twenty years ago, Debra 
Martin placed a bit of bone from a 
mummy under a microscope and 
discovered that a person who lived in 
Nubia (northern Sudan) during the 
fourth century A.D. had apparently in- 
gested tetracychne, a broad-spectrum 
antibiotic that entered the arsenal of 
modern medicine only in the 19505. 
Finding a pair of designer sunglasses on 
the mummy would hardly have been 
more startling. And the discovery was 
purely serendipitous. 

Today Martin is a professor of an- 
thropology at Hampshire College in 
Amherst, but at the time she was a grad- 
uate smdent in biological anthropology 
at the University of Massachusetts. As 
part of her training, she was visiting a re- 
search laboratory at Henry Ford Hospi- 
tal in Detroit, Michigan, to learn tech- 
niques for making thin sections of bones 
from archaeological finds. Normally she 
would have relied on a standard micro- 
scope, and the tetracycline would have 
gone undetected. But because the stan- 
dard microscope was unavailable, an- 
other researcher suggested Martin try 
one that used ultraviolet light. 

At one specific wavelength, ultravi- 
olet Hght causes tetracycUne to fluoresce 
with a unique yellow-greenish color. In 
the lab, researchers under the direction 
of Flarold Frost were using tetracycline 

to measure the rate 
of bone formation. 
Tetracycline tends to 
bind with calcium and 
phosphorus, which make 
up more than 80 percent 
of the mineral portion of 
mature bone. (Patients who 
are taking the drug are ad- 
vised not to drink milk or 
take antacids containing cal- 
cium, since the tetracycUne will 
bind to the calcium and lose its 
antibiotic effectiveness.) Any 
tetracycline circulating in the body 
may bind v^ath calcium that is being 
deposited in the bone, "labeling" 
(tagging) the bone with its indehble 
signature. In the laboratory study, 
people who were scheduled to have 
bone removed during biopsy or ampu- 
tation were asked to take tetracychne at 
intervals before the surgery. Bone de- 
posits formed during this period could 
then be identified and measured. 

When Martin returned to the Uni- 
versity of Massachusetts, where I was 
then teaching, she told me of her dis- 
covery, and we began to explore several 
issues: Was this reaUy tetracycline? If so, 
was it incorporated into the bone dur- 
ing the subject's lifetime 1,600 years 
ago, or could it have been produced by 
organisms that invaded the remains after 

If it was ingested 
by ancient Nubians in their food . 
or medications, what was its source? 

That we really were deahng with 
tetracychne was demonstrated by James 
Boothe, a chemist who had worked on 
the initial commercial appHcations of 
the antibiotic for American Cyanamid. 
He was able to extract it from our Nu- 
bian bone and show that it could still 
kill bacteria. More recently, Mark Nel- 
son at Paratek Pharmaceuticals has 
been determining its precise molecular 
structure (there is actually a whole fam- 
ily of tetracycHnes in nature). 





r ?. A C T 


Evidence that the tetracycHrie was 
incorporated during the htetinie of 
the Nubian nuininiy came from its 
osteons, which are microscopic 
cyhndrical building blocks of 

A modet from an Egyptian 

tomb in Thebes, ca. 

2009-1998 B.C., 

reveals an andent 


% between making 

bread and 



cortical bone (such as the outer layers 
of bone shafts). In response to physical 
stresses, bone tissue undergoes a con- 
tinual process of fme-tuning. Bone cells 
called osteoclasts break down small 
amounts ot bone mineral, which other 
cells, called osteoblasts, then replace. 
The result is the formation of new os- 
teons. It takes about four months for 
any one osteon to become flilly miner- 
alized, and tetracycline may be incor- 
porated during the process. When we 
examined bone from the Nubian 
mummy, we found that some osteons 
had layers of mineral containing tetra- 
cycline alternating with layers without 
tetracycline. Such a pattern could have 

developed only during life, not if the 
tetracycline was somehow introduced 
later; it indicated that while these par- 
ticular osteons were forming, the indi- 
vidual was ingesting tetracycline inter- 
nuttentiy. In most ot the osteons we 
examined in the mummy, however, we 
found that tetracycline was present in 
all the layers, suggesting that during the 
four months it took for these osteons to 
mineralize, this individual had continu- 
ously ingested the antibiotic. 

To determine the extent of tetracy- 
cline use by ancient Nubians, three un- 
dergraduate researchers in our lab at 
Emory University — Kristi Kohlbacher, 
Jennifer Cook, and Kristy Collins — 
painstakingly sampled thousands of os- 
teons from our original mummy and 
from seventy-seven other Nubian and 
Egyptian remains dating from about 
the same era. AH but four of the sev- 
enty-eight individuals showed some 
degree of exposure to tetracychne, and 
no significant differences by age or sex 
were evident. Even the remains of two 
of the three infants contained tetracy- 
cline, showing that it was passed to 
them in their mothers' milk. 

FoUowing the publication of these 
findings in the 1980s, other researchers 
began to report evidence of tetracy- 
cline in African prehistory. Physical an- 
thropologist Megan Cook (then at the 
University of Toronto) and her col- 
leagues, for example, found that the 
mummified remains of all twenty-five 
individuals recovered from Dakhla 
Oasis in Egypt, dating from the Roman 
period (a.D. 400-500), showed tetracy- 
cline labeling. The patterns were con- 
sistent with doses occurring at nvo- to 
three-week intervals. And Ann Grauer 
and I have recendy reported evidence 
of tetracycline in bone from a Jordanian 
site that dates from the second century 
B.C. through the fourth century A.D. 

But none of this told us why the 
antibiotic was showing up in the an- 
cient bones. In nature, tetracycline is 
produced by streptomycetes, molcUike 


Is climate change affecting wildlife? For the past 
twenty-five years, ecologist David Inouye, of the 
University of Maryland, and his colleagues at the 
Rocky Mountain Biological Research Laboratory 
in the West Elk Mountains of Colorado, have 
been trying to find out. 

Robins, they report, are arriving about four- 
teen days earlier than they did in 1981, and 
marmots (cousins of the woodchuck) are coming 
out of their eight-month-long hibernation more 
than a month earlier than they did in 1977. 
Inouye believes this disruption of long- 
established behavior patterns is caused by the 
differential effects of global warming at differ- 
ent elevations. 

At the Rocky Mountain facility, 9,662 feet 
above sea level, the overall length and severity 
of the winters have remained relatively un- 
changed over the years of the study. Although 
air temperatures have become warmer, concomi- 
tant increases in snowfall have kept the snow- 
pack constant until late spring. Marmots, sens- 
ing that the air is warmer than in past springs, 
emerge earlier from their burrows, only to con- 


front a dearth of plant food. Many quickly use up 

their stored fat, putting them at risk of starva- 
tion. Chipmunks, ground squirrels, and bears, 
which, like the marmots, pass the winter in bur- 
rows or dens at high altitudes, may also suffer 
from the change in synchronicity between snow 
and temperature cues in spring. 

Lowland habitats, however, are experiencing 
increasingly earlier springs. When robins migrate 
to the mountains from lower altitudes or lati- 
tudes, the too-early birds do not catch many 
worms. Mammals (such as elk, deer, and bighorn 
sheep) that migrate to the mountains each 
spring in search of grasses and other forage may. 



r R ;\ c T £/ 

52 I FINDINGS natural history 5/00 

like the robins, discover that they arrive too 
early to find their accustomed bounty. Global 
warming thus has different effects on animals at 
different elevations. 

Growing evidence in both Europe and Amer- 
ica supports the conclusion that climate change 
is resulting in earlier and longer growing seasons 
at low altitudes, earlier migrations by some bird 
species, and earlier reproduction in both plants 
and animals. ("Climate Change Is Affecting Alti- 
tudinal Migrants and Hibernating Species," Pro- 
ceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 
^1-A, 2000) 


According to paleoclimatologist George Kukla, of 
the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at New 
York's Columbia University, long-term climate 
trends indicate that regardless of whether global 
warming is occurring or not, our planet is 
headed for another ice age. 

Although the exact mechanisms that cause 
ice ages are still poorly understood, the cyclic 
periods of glaciation are now believed to cor- 
respond with the periodic shifting (tilt and 
wobble) of the Earth's axis, combined with the 
ellipticity of our planet's orbit around the Sun. 
These patterns of motion, known as Mi- 
lan.;ovich cycles, are thought to cause Earth's 
recurrfe.i't ice ages. 

bacteria commonly found in soils. 
These slow-growing cells do not do so 
well in the wet, acidic soils where most 
bacteria flourish, but they have the edge 
in hot, dry, and neutral-to-alkaline en- 
vironments. Ten-year-old spores sur- 
vive in dry sand and are easily cultured. 

Initially we thought that during 
famine or drought, the ancient Nu- 
bians and Egyptians might have been 
torced to eat moldy grain. (Even one or 
two grams of tetracycline consumed by 
humans in a single day will produce 
fluorescence in bone.) The warm, dry, 
alkaline environment of storage bins 
made of mud could have been an ideal 
environment for streptomycetes. But 
we learned that when they are growing 
well, streptomycetes actually produce 
little tetracycUne. Given the degree of 
tetracycline labeling in the Nubian and 
Egyptian remains, we had to consider 
other possibilities. The key turned out 
to be beer, known as bosa in much of 
present-day Africa. 

Searching through both ancient and 
later texts, Everett Bassett, Margaret 

according to Barry Kemp, author of 
Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilization, 
was quite different from the modern 
commercial product: "It was probably 
an opaque liquid looking like a gruel or 
soup, not necessarily very alcoholic but 
highly nutritious. Its prominence in the 
Egyptian diet reflects its food value as 
much as the mildly pleasurable sensa- 
tion that went with drinking it." Uni- 
versity of Cambridge archaeologist 
Delwen Samuel and his colleagues from 
the British brewery Scottish and New- 
castle have undertaken extensive re- 
search on brewing and baking in an- 
cient Egypt. They analyzed the remains 
of food left in tombs as offerings and 
the residues of beer and crumbs of 
bread encrusted on pottery shards and 
vessels. They even examined floor 
sweepings from tombs and Hving areas. 
Successfiil brev\dng depends on the 
use of a grain that provides enough 
sugar for fermentation. In modern 
recipes, grain is made to germinate and 
is then heated and dried to halt the 
process. Known as malting, this proce- 

> I > ^i 

. ' ^i 

Egyptian painted limestone relief of npe barley, ca. 1345-1335 b.c. 

Keith, and other members of our team 
reahzed that in the region's grain pro- 
cessing, there was an important link 
between bread baking and beer brew- 
ing. Egyptian art also shows baking and 
brewing in constant association. In fact, 
baked bread is an essential part of the 
traditional beer recipe still used today 
by villagers who live along the Nile. 
The beer produced in ancient times. 

dure releases the enzyme diastase, 
which converts the starches in grain to 
maltose sugar. The malt is then boiled, 
strained, and incubated with yeast. In 
the traditional Egyptian method, bread 
dough is set out to capture airborne 
yeast. (Other traditional recipes actually ! 
add bosa that was held back from previ- j 
ous batches for this purpose, since the 1 
hquid contains yeast.) When baked, the ; 


;\ li : T ?. A C T 

^ tonus a crust but is removed 
from the oven before the center has had 
a chance to cook, allowing the yeast to 
grow in the warm, slightly cooked 
dough. The partially baked bread is 
then broken up and added to a broth of 
malted grain to make ttie beer. 

We theorized that airborne strepto- 
mycete spores were captured in the 
ancient brewers' dough during its ex- 
posure to the air and that the strepto- 
niycetes then produced tetracycline 
while the yeast grew in the partially 
baked bread. To investigate brewing's 
capacity to give rise to tetracycline, 
Daniel Popowich and Brennan Posner, 
undergraduates at Emory University, 
added streptomycetes during two ex- 
periments with the traditional process. 
In the first, they added a small colony of 
streptomycetes to the just-baked bread; 
in the second, they added the strepto- 
mycetes to the niLxture of malted grain 
and bread. The second technique was 
the more successfid and produced sig- 
nificant amounts of tetracycline. 

The fermenting brews of ancient 
times, we concluded, provided the 
somewhat harsh environment in which 
the streptomycetes were stimulated to 
yield tetracycHne in quantity. Nowa- 
days, companies that make pharmaceu- 
ticals deliberately control and Hmit cer- 
tain nutrients as a way of forcing 
streptomycetes to make tetracycline. 

Given that the ancient Nubians and 
Egyptians were getting doses of tetra- 
cycline, another question is whether 
this afforded them any medical bene- 
fits. In Food: The Gift of Osiris, William 
J. Darby and coauthors provide archae- 
ological, historical, and ethnographic 
accounts of beer's use as a mouthwash 
to treat the giuns, as an enema, as a 
vaginal douche, as a dressing for 
wounds, and as a fumigant to treat dis- 
eases of the anus (the dried remains of 
grains used in brewing are burned to 
produce a therapeutic smoke). This 
shows that even in the distant past, 
Egyptians and their neighbors appreci- 
ated beer's medicinal qualities. 

Today tetracycline remains the drug 
of choice in the treatment of both acne 
and gingival disease. Researchers study- 
ing gum disease originally assumed that 
the tetracycline worked because of its 
antibiotic qualities. But tetracycline also 
appears to inhibit coUagenase, an en- 
zyme that breaks down collagen. There 
has been a concerted effort to produce 
chemically modified tetracyclines 
(CMTs) that have this effect but not the 
antibiotic qualities. In addition, both 
tetracycline and CMTs have proved to 
be very effective in inhibiting matrix 
matallproteinases, enzymes involved in 
a number of bone and connective-tissue 
diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, 
osteoarthritis, periodontal disease, os- 
teoporosis, and even cardiovascular dis- 
ease. The ingestion of tetracycline may 
thus have had real medical benefits for 
ancient Nubians and Egyptians. 

As we enter the new millennium, 
many people are concerned that our 
own use and abuse of antibiotics in 
medicine, agriculture, and even manu- 
factured products has been encourag- 
ing the rise of antibiotic-resistant bac- 
teria. When we reported the discovery 
of tetracychne in ancient bones in the 
journal Science, we wondered whether, 
owing to long-term ingestion of the 
antibiotic, the Nubian and Egyptian 
populations might have suffered an in- 
crease in disease caused by resistant 
bacteria. To test this, Vi'e have exam- 
ined the bones in our sample for signs 
ot periosteal reactions — roughened 
surfaces that form as a result of bone 
infection. We have found no evidence 
that intections became more intense 
during the centuries represented by the 
bones, as would be expected if more 
resistant bacteria had evolved. But dur- 
ing our own lifetimes, 1,600 years later, 
many of us may well fall victim to bac- 
teria that are resistant to all the known 
antibiotics. It we do, our bones will re- 
veal this to archaeologists of the future. 

George J. Arinelagos is a professor of anthro- 
pology at Emory Unipersity in Atlanta. 

We are now in an interglacial period, but the 

tilt and position of Earth relative to the Sun are 
fast approaching what they were 116,000 years 
ago, when the polar ice started expanding. 

Focusing on the last interglacial (some 
116,000 to 130,000 years ago), Kukla and his 
colleagues have examined a range of evidence 
in cores taken from polar ice and from ocean 

g Laconte Glacier, Alaska 

and lake sediments. Our present interglacial, 
he concludes, is similar to the one that pre- 
ceded it. (To Kukla, the common belief that 
the present period is unusually benign stems 
from the misinterpretation of a single Green- 
land ice core.) 

"There is a tendency these days to focus on 
whatever may indicate man-made global warm- 
ing," explains Kukla. A look at the big picture, 
he says, indicates a paradoxical but logical sce- 
nario. The warming of the oceans might well 
hasten the transition to a cold world by increas- 
ing the rate of water vapor transported from the 
Tropics to the Poles. If ice builds up in the high 
latitudes, as it has in the past, then in several 
thousand years, a surge of icebergs into midlati- 
tude oceans may plunge Earth into its next ice 
age. ("The Last Interglacial," Sa'ence 287, Febru- 
ary 200Q)— Richard Milner 

54|NATURALIST AT LARGE natural history 5/00 

In the Comp 

Sometimes wild animals are 
attracted to people. They seem 
to weigh the risks of 
associating with us and 
conclude that under certain 
circumstances, hanging 
out with Homo sapiens is the 
safest thing to do. 

In Tire Biophilia Hypothesis, biologist Edward 
O. Wilson addresses the psychological and 
evolutionary reasons humans are attracted to 
animals. My own experience as a field biolo- 
gist has exposed me time and time again to 
convincing evidence that many humans are indeed 
powerfully drawn to animals. For more than three 
decades, I have spent part of every year in the Pe- 
ruvian Amazon, where I have been privileged to 
visit villages belonging to half a dozen premodern 
tribes. Nearly every household has included pets, 
and even though many of these pets ultimately 
wind up in the supper pot, the villagers treat them 
with obvious affection. Among the animals se- 
lected are birds of assorted sizes and habits, tor- 
toises, iguanas, and mammals (especially primates 
but also peccaries, agoutis, and coatimundis). 
Many have been captured as juveniles, usually by 
hunters who shot the mother; the young are then 
raised by humans, who sometimes even suckle 
them until they can be weaned. 

This story has a flip side, however. Under cer- 
tain circumstances, wild animals are drawn to 
people. Not always do they flee or recoU from hu- 

By John Terborgh 

ly of Humans 

Reclining Nude, 
by Tommy Dale 
Palmore, 1976 

56 N ATU RALI5T AT LARGE natural history 5/00 

Happy, Crazy mans; instead, it has often seemed to me, the ani- 

American mals quietly observe them as if attempting to judge 

Animals and a their intentions. Then, if the people appear to be 
Man and Lady at nonthreatening, various kinds of interactions be- 
My Place, by come possible. 

John Wilde, But before I begin to elaborate on why animals 

1961 may choose to associate with humans, perhaps I 

should review the circumstances in which animals 
of different species are drawn to one another. In the 
forests around the Cocha Cashu Biological Station 
in Peru's Manu National Park, such associations are 

common. In one type, called the beater syndrome, 
one species unintentionally makes food available to 
another by creating a disturbance as it moves 
through the habitat. The beater syndrome is a form 
of commensalism — the unilateral transfer of bene- 
fits from one species to another at Utde or no cost to 
the benefactor. 

One of the beneficiaries of the beater syndrome 
in Manu is the rare hiianganapescco, known in Eng- 
lish as the rufous-vented ground cuckoo. In > 
Quechua, the language of the Incas, pescco means 

"bird," and liiuvigaiui is the local name tor the 
white-lipped peccary, a New World maninial simi- 
lar to a pig. These peccaries are half again as large as 
the more familiar collared peccar\', and they travel 
in imposing herds that can number in the hundreds, 
blackenins the forest floor with their massed bodies 
and filling the air with a cacophony of bleating, 
rumbling, and clacking. Using a tactic similar to 
that of the cattle egret, the liuaiiganapescco positions 
itsek'amid a herd of peccaries and keeps a keen eye 
out for the lizards, frogs, and arthropods routed by 

the anmi.iK' hooves. Meanwhile, overhead, several 
woodcreepers cling to tree trunks, ready to snatch 
insects that take wing to avoid being trampled. 

A more intimate form of commcnsalism, 
termed the cleaner syndrome, involves direct body 
contact between the associates, implying both trust 
and recognition. Viewers of nature programs on 
television are familiar with the cleaner wrasse, a 
small coral reef fish that makes a living by nipping 
parasites off larger fish. The most famous terrestrial 
cleaner syndrome involves the colorful tick birds ot 
the African savanna. These birds forage exclusively 
on the backs and legs of large mammals, where they 
dine on parasites, principally ticks. The Amazonian 
counterpart of Africa's tick bird is the giant cow- 
bird, which forages independently most of the time 
but deticks capybaras and tapirs when opportunity' 
knocks. Obviously comfortable with the relation- 
ship, capybaras (the largest living rodents) are un- 

The costs of joining a flock, 
school, or herd can be 
lower when the group is 
composed predominantly of 
other species. 

fazed when cowbirds alight on their heads and 
begin to peck around their eyes and ears. 

Sometimes birds of a feather flock together tor 
less transparent reasons, as one unplanned "natural" 
experiment showed. Years ago, as a graduate student 
at the University of Cahfornia, Berkeley, ornitholo- 
gist Pete Myers was studying sanderhngs — the pale 
litde sandpipers that frenetically chase waves up and 
down beaches along both coasts of North America. 
During the first winter of his study, based at Cah- 
fornia's Point Reyes Narional Seashore, Myers ob- 
served that sanderhngs, when not foraging, roosted 
amicably in large flocks on sandbars. But when the 
tide was propitious, they spread out along the 
beaches and set up individual territories, chasing 
away any rival sanderhngs that ventured too close. 
This behavior provided gratifying confirmation of 
the then-new theory of optimal foraging, which 
held that the highest teedmg rate could be attained 
by individuals that maintained exclusive rights to a 
foraging area. In this case, the area was a strip ot 
beach about a hundred yards long. 


58 NATURALIST AT LARGE natural history 5/00 

The following year, Myers encountered an en- 
tirely unanticipated situation. Instead of spreading 
out and confronting their neighbors in hostile face- 
offs, foraging sanderUngs bunched together in tight 
Uttle flocks. Many birds feeding in a small area 
quickly deplete the prey, however, lowering indi- 
vidual foraging success and compelUng a flock to 
keep moving in quest of fresh sites. Clearly the birds 
were paying a price for their newfound together- 
ness. The question was, What had inspired them to 
change their behavior so profoundly? 

Myers soon discovered that a merhn (a small fal- 
con) had taken up residence that winter at Point 
Reyes. Although the merhn was usually out of 
sight, the sanderhngs never forgot that a predator 
was in the vicinity. Membership in a flock meant 
that each individual gained the advantage of more 

Jaguars are seldom seen in the 
vicinity of the research 
station — which may explain 
its attraction for other animals. 

eyes and ears to detect the approaching predator. 

The costs of joining a flock, school, or herd can 
be lower when an animal joins a group composed 
predominantly of other species. Consorting with 
aUens, as it were, offers all the advantages of forag- 
ing in a group, while it minimizes competition with 
other individuals of the same species. This probably 
explains why flocks of birds consisting of many spe- 
cies, but no more than a few individuals of any one, 
are so commonplace around the world. 

By now, the reader is surely wondering what all 
this has to do with what I call homophilia (Hterally, 
a friendly feeUng toward humans) in animals. In 
fact, it has a great deal to do with the rest of my 
story, which begins with trumpeters. 

Distant relatives of cranes, trumpeters are long- 
legged, chicken-sized birds that glean fallen fruit 
from the ground. Unlike other birds that Hve on the 
forest floor, trumpeters are not particularly shy and 
readily habituate to the presence of humans. One 
day, while observing monkeys feeding in a giant fig 
tree, I understood why. 

Shortly after the monkeys began to eat — slop- 
pily dropping nearly as much fruit as they con- 
sumed — a group of trumpeters showed up on the 
forest floor beneath them. Soon an agouti (a large 

tropical rodent) appeared and began to feed among 
the trumpeters, which were unperturbed by its 
presence. Before long, a group of coUared peccaries 
joined the crowd. Again the trumpeters showed no 
reaction at all. 

I later learned that various terrestrial mammals 
routinely join feeding trumpeters, presumably to 
benefit from various loud alarm calls that the birds 
make against such animals as jagilars, bush dogs, ea- 

gles, and snakes, as well as from their habit of post- 
ing sentinels whenever other group members are 
feeding. To the trumpeters, I realized, a person is 
just one more large but nonthreatening mammal 
come to join the group. 

All these animals appear able to recognize a 
good thing when they see it, and my many years at 
Manu have convinced me that our Httle research 
station — by providing opportunities for safety that 


some animals decide to take advantage of — is a bit 
like the group under that fig tree. The station's un- 
obtrusive buildings bring the scientists into unusu- 
ally close contact with the inhabitants of the sur- 
rounding forest. Every year, certain indivRluai birds 
and mammals linger near the station, often strolling 
in open view through the clearing or perching 
right in front of a building, hardly more than an 
arm's reach away. 

The species that have shown such boldness are 
extraordinarily diverse in their habits and diets and 
thus seem to have no common denominator. 
Among those that have been drawn into our midst 
are rinamous — plump, partridgelike birds notorious 
for their shyness. A small path that leads from one 
group of our buildings to another apparendy cuts 
through areas frequented by these birds. Observing 
that humans passed by at frequent intervals without 

adverse consequences, several tinamous grew so 
comfortable with our presence that they would 
sometimes stand in the middle of the path and fail 
to budge when someone approached. Occasionally 
I found it necessary to make a verbal request before 
a tinamou would step aside so that 1 could pass. 

Over the years, 1 have someumes sought refiige 
from the hubbub of the station in a screened tent in 
the forest. One morning, after I had sat down at my 
desk, a movement in the tent caught my eye. It was 
one ot the "tame" tinamous. The bird did not seem 
to be the least bothered about sharing the cramped 
space of the tent with me. It calmly stroUed around 
inside for a few minutes and then let itself out 
through a crack at the bottom of the door. 

Tinamous have demonstrated the flexibility of 
animal behavior in other ways as well. Several years 
ago, we kept chickens at the research station. (We 
were studying ocelots at the time and needed 
chickens to lure the cats into our traps.) I happened 
to glance idly at a group of foraging chickens one 
day and was thunderstruck to see two rinamous 
scratching and pecking among them. They were 
doing two things tinamous never do (or so I had 
thought): participadng in a social group of foraging 
birds and exposing themselves to an open sky that 
might have contained raptors. This scene of inter- 
specific amit)- was repeated day after day as the tina- 
mous took advantage of the safety in numbers pro- 
vided by our chickens. 

One ot the habituated birds I re- 
member best was a piping guan — a 
chicken-sized bird normally found 
only in the highest treetops — that 
chose to nest only two yards from a 
building under construcrion. As the guan calmly sat 
on her nest, a team of carpenters erected beams and 
nailed them into place almost eyeball to eyeball 
w ith the unflappable bird. Even the chainsaw didn't Jungle Cats, by 
disturb her. Eventually the guan's three eggs John Alexander, 
hatched into downy chicks, and for many days af- 1987 
terward she remained within a few yards of our 
buildings while she tended her growing brood. 

Birds have not been the only creatures at our site 
to seek the compan\' — or at least the nearness — of 
humans. Perhaps the most remarkable were 
Howeird and Moreweird, r^vo subadult male red 
ho\\'ler monkeys. Howlers are among the most dis- 
tinctive and characteristic primates of the New 
World tropical forest. The adult males" roars are 
often so loud and startling that first-rime visitors are 

60 N ATURALIST AT LARGE natural history 5/oo 

The Fifth 
Trumpet Call I, 
by Mary Frank, 

convinced they are in the immediate presence of a 
jaguar. In reality, however, few animals could be less 
threatening than these languid vegetarians that 
spend much of every day lounging in the canopy 
digesting leaves. 

One extraordinary day a number of years ago, 
primatologist Patricia Wright was doing her laun- 
dry when a furry red hmb suddenly intruded into 
her field of vision. Looking up with a start, she 
confronted a howler monkey backing down the 

very tree to which the washboard was attached. 
Transfixed in surprise, Pat stood motionless as the 
monkey proceeded down to the ground under the 
washboard, where it set about eating soil that had 
been soaked in wash water. So unconcerned was 
the howler by Pat's presence that at one point it 
rested its hand on her shoe. 

Howler monkeys are well known to engage in 
geophagy, or earth eating, though the reason they 
do it remains unclear. One idea is that the soil pro- 

vides certain niiiK' elements lacking in their diet 
of fruit and leaves. Another hypothesis is that clay 
minerals in the soil help alleviate the effects of some 
of the toxins that must inevitably be ingested by an 
animal that consumes leaves. 

After Howeird had broken the ice with Pat, he 
began to hang around the station buildnigs, often 
resting in the rafters under the open roof when Pat 
was inside. Although she never fed him, Howeird 
persisted in following her around. When she went 

to her tent for the night, Howeird was right behind. 
Not wishing to spend the night with a monkey in 
her tent, Pat would quickly slip in and zip the door 
behind her. Undiscouraged, Howeird would climb 
up a small tree that overhung her tent and spend the 
night there. 

Atter several days oi this behavior, another 
subadult male howler, duly named Moreweird, 
joined Pat and Howeird. The three of them v^'ere 
nearly inseparable until the day the two monkeys 
just vanished into the forest, never to be seen again. 
Their departure was as unexpected as their arrival. 
Pat, who enjoyed imagining that true love had 
brought the howlers out ot the forest to her, was 
soon forced to accept that the attraction was some- 
thing more mundane: the two monkeys departed 
right after her bottle of lemon-scented detergent 
ran out and was replaced by one of a different 
brand. A dejected Pat had to admit that they didn't 
love her after all; they only loved her detergent. 

Last year, something nearly as remarkable 
happened — less amusing but deeply 
touching. At lunch one day, a student an- 
nounced a very unusual sighting: a lone 
hiiangana. Finding one of these big pec- 
caries all by itself and away from its herd was un- 
precedented in our experience. The student had en- 
countered the animal half a mile to the north of the 
station and noted that it appeared sick and lame. Late 
that afternoon, another researcher met the same ani- 
mal only 300 feet from the station. It had been 

The animals that visit us are 
diverse, ranging from 
tinamous and piping guan to 
hov^ler monkeys and white- 
Hpped peccaries. 

standing in the middle of Trail 1 , the main thor- 
oughfire between the station and our port on the 
Manu River. When confronted by the approaching 
human, the huaiigaihi hobbled a few feet off the trail 
and stood there wliile the researcher passed by. 

The next day several people saw it, always stand- 
ing at the edge or in the middle of Trail 1 . The an- 
imal could not have selected a busier place to reside: 
many people, often in noisy groups, go back and 


NATURALIST AT LARGE natural history 5/00 

forth to the port every day. Yet the Imatigana chose 
to settle precisely here. For the first few days it 
seemed to be in decUne, hmping badly and re- 
sponding hstlessly to the blandishments of nervous 
researchers who didn't want to get too close to a 
potentially dangerous animal. 

Why would the sick and lame 
peccary have walked half a 
mile to our camp in an 
enfeebled condition if it 
hadn't wanted to be near us? 

After perhaps a week, the huangana appeared 
more alert and was steadier on its feet, although I 
don't know what it could have been finding to eat 
during all that time. Had the animal wanted to dis- 
tance itself firom further contact with humans, it 
could easily have done so. But it remained in the 
middle of Trail 1 by day, and by night, we discov- 
ered, it quietly bedded down just a few feet firom an 
investigator's tent. 

I can think of no other way to interpret the 
huangands behavior except to imagine that it 
"wanted" to be close to humans. Why else would it 
have walked half a mile in an enfeebled condition 
to be near us? 

The huangana is a prime example of a 
species that seeks safety in numbers. 
Its archenemy, the jaguar, never 
launches a frontal attack on a herd, 
because adult peccaries defend them- 
selves with long, saberhke tusks that could easOy 
disembowel a big cat. Instead, the jaguar stalks the 
herd in the hope of being able to assault a juvenile 
or a peripheral individual and subdue it before the 
others react. A lone huangana is thus in a very vul- 
nerable situation. From a jaguar's point of view, 
such an animal is a fi-eebie. 

Our peccary must have decided that the risk of 

consorting with humans was less than the one it 

faced by remaining alone in the forest. Perhaps it 

had noticed that the jaguar was seldom in the vicin- 

Erda: The Earth ity of the station. Whatever its reasoning, the huan- 

Goddess, gana was right. Its vigor and agility steadily im- 

by James G. proved untU, one day, a herd of its species crossed 

Davis, 1987 Trail 1 and our peccary was gone. 

As a scientist, I am admonished to be unrelent- 
ing in my skepticism and to demand the highest 
standards of evidence before drawing conclusions. 
Above all, I should resist any temptation to con- 
struct anthropomorphic interpretations. What I 
have recounted here are anecdotes — isolated occur- 
rences of an essentially unrepeatable, and thus sci- 
entifically untestable, nature. 

Nevertheless, having spent a Ufetime observing 
animals in the wild, I have come to the conclusion 
that many birds and mammals are highly observant, 
that they are able to weigh very abstract risks, and 
that they can reach conclusions based on the as- 
sessed balance of those risks and then take appropri- 
ate action. 

Night and day, the Amazonian rainforest teems 
with predators. No animal, except perhaps a top 
carnivore, can afford to be unmindful of the omni- 
present threat of predation. If animals can be said to 
think about anything, heading the list must be how 
to conduct their Hves in a way that minimizes expo- 
sure to predators — since, of course, only Hving ani- 
mals can pass along their genes. 

Whether a particular bird or mammal is territo- 
rial or social is commonly regarded as characteristic 
of the species. Pete Myers's sanderUngs, however, 
demonstrated a capacity for radically altering their 
behavior in direct response to an increased threat of 
predation. So did the habituated tinamous at our 
research station when they perceived that by con- 
sorting with chickens, they could forage in the 
open at reduced risk. Monkeys are similarly oppor- 
tunistic in their choice of companions. Never at 
ease when alone, bachelor males routinely seek the 
company of other species of monkey. Howeird and 
Moreweird apparently decided that Pat could pro- 
vide some sort of protection against predators. To 
be alone is to be vulnerable, because no animal is 
able to maintain vigilance 100 percent of the time. 

I am not suggesting that animals have the same 
intrinsic affinity for people that E. O. Wilson claims , 
people have for animals. But when under the threat 
of predation, many animals do have an affinity for 
other animals, whether of their own or of different 
species. Having been taught as a child that nearly all 
animals instinctively avoid people, I was pleasantly 
surprised to learn that animals can occasionally 
overcome their inhibitions and see us as benign. My 
colleagues and I at Manu are gratified when the 
birds and mammals with which we share the forest 
choose to draw near, even if it is only to use us as 
foils against their enemies. D 

64|ANIMAL BEHAVIOR natural history 5/00 

Dia It 


ami They Will Come 

By Douglas Emlen 

Kick aside a pile of fresh horse droppings, and a 
small cloud of flies is sure to explode around you. 
Maggots squirm in the nutritious sea of manure, 
and beetles scurry this way and that. Among the 
crowd of insects are the ones I have been studying 
for the past ten years: beetles in the genus Ontho- 
phagiis. Small (often no bigger than the eraser on a 
new pencil) and sluggish, these beetles are easy to 
overlook as your eyes fix on other, faster, more 
brightly colored species or on beetles that are in- 
dustriously pushing balls of dung away from the 
pUe. But if you look closely, especially right where 
the dung meets the soil, you will be rewarded with 
a look at some of the most bizarre and — at their 
scale — formidable creatures on Earth. 

There are 2,000 named species of onthophagine 
dung beetles, and certainly half again as many wait- 
ing to be described. They inhabit every continent 
except Antarctica and can be found as readily in 
tropical rainforests as in temperate pastures, African 
savannas, and the Australian outback. They feed on 
almost every type of dung imaginable, from cow to 
kangaroo and toad to tapir. 

Despite this variety of habitats, all these beetles 
do basically the same thing: they fly to pieces of 
dung and dig tunnels in the soil below it. The fe- 
males then puU small pieces of dung into the tun- 
nels, fashion them into balls, and lay one egg inside 
each ball. A few days later, when the eggs hatch, the 
young larvae feed on the dung in relative peace, 
shielded from the competitive aboveground world. 

The bodies of onthophagine beedes reflect their 
subterranean lifestyle. Durable, ovoid digging ma- 

Illustrations by Utako Kikutanl 

chines, they have a smooth, rigid exoskeleton and 
sharp, toothed forelegs, which they use to dig into 
sun-scorched clay and other hard soils. Like the 
front end of a bulldozer, a dung beetle's head is flat- 
tened into a broad plate that can push soil up and 
out of the turmel; lying safely beneath this protec- 
tive shield are its delicate organs of taste and vision. After excavating 

The exceptions to this streamlined body plan are tunnels, female 
the knobs, barbs, and spikelike outgrowths that pro- Onthophagus 
trude from the males. You might need a magnifying acuminatus 
glass to see these "horns" clearly, but in many spe- beetles drag in 
cies they rival the antlers of bull moose in both dung within 
shape and proportion. The largest males produce which to lay 
the biggest horns (small males and females generally their eggs. Large, 
have none). In some species, such as O. nigriventris, horned males 
they may be longer than the rest of the body. guard the tops of 

Why produce such extravagant horns? They the tunnels, 
make it difficult even to fit into a tunnel, let alone attempting to 
run, turn, or maneuver inside one. My work has keep out rivals, 
led me to conclude that the tunnels themselves — while smaller, 
and the need to guard the females breeding inside hornless males 
them — are key to the evolution of the horns. may reach a 

With the help of glass observation chambers, female by 
video cameras, and plenty of patience, my team at digging side 
the University of Montana and researchers at several tunnels of 
other institutions have been watching these beetles their own. 
inside their tunnels. The first thing we learned was 
that provisioning the eggs is a laborious process. 
One female in the species O. acuminatus made more 
than fifty separate trips to the surface to collect 
enough dung to make just one brood ball; over the 
course of several days, a female inight make five to 
twenty such balls. 

A female dung beetle in her tunnel is sure 
to attract suitors big and small. 


66 ANIMAL BEHAVIOR natural history 5/00 

Supplied with 
enough food 
during its larval 
stage, a male 0. 
acuminatus, top 
right, will grow 
large and 
develop good- 
sized horns. 
Bottom right: 
Inadequate food 
during this 
crucial period 
leads to much 
smaller males 
with, at best, 

Immediately before and during egg laying, the 
female essentially lives under the ground. This pre- 
sents the male of the species with a challenge: to 
mate with the female, he must get inside the tunnel. 
It also presents him with an opportunity: once in- 
side, if he can keep rival males away, he can mate 
repeatedly with the resident female and be the only 
one to fertilize her eggs. 

And this is precisely what many males endeavor 
to do. The first hurdle is the tunnel entrance. 
Standing guard here, the resident male will try to 
fight off other males that attempt to enter. In a typ- 
ical contest, the resident male braces himself 
against the tunnel walls and uses his head and long 
horns to block entry or to push the rival out. An 
intruding male, for his part, tries to squeeze past 
the resident male. By wedging his head beneath 
the other beetle and pushing or twisting, the chal- 
lenger may create a gap into which he propels 
himself. The resident male's horns get in the way, 
however, and the two males usually end up locking 
head to head. Sometimes brute strength and strate- 
gic maneuvers enable the intruder to force his way 

past the guard and into the tunnel, where the spar- 
ring resumes. At times, the previous resident is 
pushed all the way out of the tunnel and has to try 
to fight his way back in. 

Fights between males may last only a few sec- 
onds or may entail half an hour of head butting and 
sparring. Although the sequence of events during a 
fight varies, the outcome is remarkably predictable. 
I staged contests between O. acuminatus males, for 
example, and found that the winner is generally the 
bigger individual and, in particular, the one with 
the longer horns. Duke University graduate student 
Armin Moczek and I have found an identical out- 
come for a second species, O. taums. Since success 
at guarding tunnels — thanks in part to horns — 
translates into success at passing genes on to fiiture 
generations, this process of selection could easily 
have led to the evolution of bigger and bigger 
horns. Indeed, the males of many species have such 
large horns that often they cannot even turn around 
inside a turmel but instead must push all the way 
down to the enlarged brood chamber below, or 
must back all the way up and out the entrance, be- 
fore they can turn and face the other way. 

There is, however, a twist to this story. Not all 
the males in each species are large, and not all the 
males grow horns. In fact, the males in the popula- 
tions I study come in two basic classes: large, with 
horns, and small, with either very rudimentary 
horns or none at all. For a small male, fighting is not 
an effective option; the only way he can reach a fe- 
male is on the sly. Sometimes he will wait until the 
guarding male leaves the turmel briefly (returning 
to the dung pile to feed, for instance) and then dash 
inside to find the female. If he is small enough and I 
smooth enough, he may even be able to sneak right 
past a guarding male without being detected. 

The small O. acuminatus male has another ploy if 
these tactics fail. He may move a short distance 
away and excavate a tunnel of his own. After bur- j 
rowing about half an inch below the surface, he 
cuts horizontally and sometimes succeeds in inter- 
cepting the guarded tunnel below the surface. Hav- 
ing evaded the guarding male, the "sneaker" malej 
mates with the female and then returns to his side'" 
tunnel and waits. Hours later, he either tries to 
reenter the guarded turmel or continues to dig hor- 
izontally In a densely excavated area, one of these 
small males may gain access to several guarded tun- 
nels via a single side tunnel of his own. 

For her part, the female does not discriminate 
among suitors, mating readUy with both sneaker; j 

,iiid guarding m.ilcs. Uiifortiiiiately tor the sneak, a 
^lIlgle mating does not guarantee that he will sire 
ottspring. The female has undoubtedly already 
m.ited with the guarding male and is hkcly to do so 
.i;4.iin after the smaller male leaves. And if the resi- 
dent male detects the intruder, he will not only 
ih.ise him out ot' the tunnel but will rush back to 
copulate again with the female. Still, a persistent 
Mn.ill male may be able to get inside a tunnel several 
tunes, and one ot" those times might be just when 
the female is ready to lay an egg. 

A second way that small males deal with the 
competition is by producing — and transferring — 
more sperm than their larger counterparts. Leigh 
Simmons, Joe Tomkins, and John Hunt, of the 

Homs may grow at the 
expense of other body parts. 
Depending on the spedes, 
big homs may mean smaller eyes, 
wings, or antennae. 

University' of Western Australia, found that small O. 
hiiiodis males had disproportionately large testes. 
These males also ejaculated more seminal fluid and 
produced longer sperm than did their guarding 
competiton. Hence, smaller males (which make up 
about 50 percent of the male population) may 
compensate for having fewer matings by transfer- 
ring more sperm each time they copulate, thereby 
increasing the odds that they will fertilize an egg 
each time they do mate. 

Onthophagine beetles are not the only inverte- 
brates to have tvvo classes of males, each with its 
own mating strategy". In the ground-nesting bee 
Perdilii portalis, for example, Bryan Danforth, now at 
Cornell University, found that large males have ex- 
aggerated mandibles that they use in contests over 
subterranean burrows containing females. Because 
the smaller males lack these large mandibles, their 
only chance of mating is to intercept a female as she 
forages on a flower. PanKcrccis iciilpta is a marine iso- 
pod studied for many years by Stephen Shuster, 
now at the University of Northern Arizona. In 
these creatures, males come not in two but in three 
morphs, each with its owti specialized way of en- 
countering females. 

What determines which embryos or larvae will 
pursue a macho path and which \\t11 become little 
sneaks? In the isopods Shuster studied, both the 

morphology of a male and his mating tactics de- 
pend primarily on the genes inherited from the 
parents. In the beetles I study, it turns out, horn 
growth is more flexible and is affected by the course 
of larval development. Supphed with ample food 
for their entire larv-al stage, males become large and 
develop long horns. Larvae that run out of food 
prematurely do not grow as large, and if they fail to 
reach a critical minimum body size, they dispense 

tiorns grow at 
the front of the 
thorax in big 
0. nigriventris 


0. praeceUens 
males have three 
homs: one 
shaped like a 
spatula, which 
grows from the 
very front of the 
face, and two 
big, triangular 
bulges, which 
grow from the 

with horn production altogether. The physiological 
"decision" whether or not to produce horns occurs 
toward the very end of the lar\-al feeding period. H. 
Frederik Nijhout, of Duke University, and I discov- 
ered that painting minute amounts of what is called 
juvenile hormone onto small males at this time 

68 ANIMAL BEHAVIOR natural history 5/00 

Below: 0. taurus causes them to produce horns despite their small 

males pass size, suggesting that this hormone is the critical Hnk 

through several between male body size and horn production. 

stages inside a With insufficient juvenile hormone, horn growth 

mass of dung never starts. 

before emerging 
in all their 
horned glory. 
from top left: 
Egg, larva, pupa, 
and young adult. 
Opposite page: 
0. taurus. 

Onthophagine beetle horns begin when small 
sections of the larval skin, or epidermis, start grow- 
ing rapidly. In O. taurus, there are two such regions 
of rapid growth, one on each side of the head. The 
horns are not visible in the larval stage because they 
are trapped under the cuticle and thus forced to 
grow inward, as dense clusters of folded tissue. 
When a male molts from a larva to a pupa, the 
horns evert, unfold, and stretch out to their full 
shape and length — not urdike extending a collapsed 
telescope. During the final molt, from pupa to 

adult, the epidermal cells secrete special enzymes 
that rigidify the horns as well as hardening all the 
other adult structures. 

Growing horns takes time. In O. taurus, Hunt 
and Simmons found, the process adds several days 
to a larva's development. This extra time is danger- 
ous, they suggest, because it significantly increases 
the larva's risk of faUing prey to nematodes in the 
soil. And horns are hkely to continue to exact a cost 
even after the beetles have emerged above ground: 
males must fly from dung source to dung source in 
order to locate females, and bulky horns may make 
flight slower, clumsier, or more energy draining, 
possibly increasing the risk that these males will be 
spotted and captured by predators. 

Constituting up to 15 percent of a male's total 
body weight, horns also require nutrients, energy, 
and other resources to grow. Dung beetle larvae de- 
velop in isolation, with nothing to feed on but the 
dung in which their mother packed the eggs. In this 
world of finite resources, devoting a portion of 
their share to horns means making less available for 
other body parts. O. acuminatus and O. taurus males, 

The beetles develop In Isolation, 
with nothing to feed on but the 
dung in which their mother 
packed the eggs. 

for example, cannot have both long horns and large 
eyes: horned individuals have fewer ommatidia, or 
eye facets (making their visual field Hke a computer 
screen with fewer pixels). When Nijhout and 1 ex- 
perimentally manipulated the growth of male 
horns, we found that suppressing horn develop- 
ment resulted in larger eyes. 

Various tradeoffs occur in other Onthophagus 
species. In some, horns extend from the thorax, and 
my prehminary data suggest that in this case, horns 
grow at the expense of wing size. In other species, 
horns extend from the front of the face, where they 
seem to squelch the antennae. Different types of 
horns thus incur different types of costs. 

As we tease apart the factors shaping the horns, 
we are realizing just how intricate and numerous 
are the connections between ecology, evolution, 
and development. Discoveries in one arena open up 
exciting and often unanticipated research questions 
in the others. I suspect we will be spying on these 
little black beetles for a long time to come. D 


70 1 ECOSYSTEM S natural history 5/00 

s iSrwc** 
















By Peter J. Marchand 

Even before they emerge from their buds, and long after 
they become part of the forest floor, leaves play host 
to ever changing communities of minuscule fungi. 

/n a rain-drenched tropical forest canopy, 
where plants grow upon plants, even a single 
leaf serves as the staging ground for a multi- 
tude of species interactions, and competition 
for limited space and resources is intense. But even 
ill the canopies ot the world's less crowded temper- 
ate forests, we find parallel situations. The fungal 
communities that grow on healthy new leaves are a 
shining example. 

From the time a tender new leaf pushes 
through its protective bud scales and enters the 
world ot intricately tangled food webs, it is colo- 
nized by fungi that have been lying in wait. Three 
or four species of yeast (which are unicellular 
tungi) often take refuge within the buds and shoots 
ot deciduous trees. As each new leaf untblds to 
greet the spring, wind- and water-borne flingal 
spores also arrive on the scene. For the most part, 
these organisms pose no greater threat to the 
emerging leaf than does the Spanish moss festoon- 
ing the branches of live oaks in 
The tiny canyons the Deep South. Except for the 
and crevices of occasional pathogenic species, 

seemingly smooth these early colonists use the leaf 
leaves are fertile primarily as a platform from 
ground for fungi. which to scavenge organic de- 
Inset, left: The bris. But they may also, in fact, 
spores of be beneficial to the new leaves 
Aspergillus (a and therefore to the tree itself. 
common mold) One advantage of the 
magnified 5,600 plants keeping company with 
times by scanning tungi is that some of the 
electron colonists have insecticidal prop- 
microscope, erties. A few fungi have been 
found to excrete strong chemi- 
cals capable of interfering with insect development 
and even of killing the larvae outright. As a result, 
far fewer leaf-chomping caterpillars can feed their 
way into adulthood. When, for instance, a minute 
amount ot' Fiisariitin lU'ciiacciini (a fungus commonly 
found on the blades of various grasses and in the 

needles of fir trees suffering a budworm attack) is 
ground up in the laboratory and mixed into the diet 
ot budworm larvae, it kiUs 80 to lOU percent of the 
population. There is nothing altruistic about the 
fungus's services, of course; a fungus that seeps in- 
secticide is merely investing in its own survival. In 
the process, however, it also saves the leaf firom get- 
ting devoured, although in the complex food web 
of the forest canopy, the coevolution of grazer and 
grazed inevitably results in some herbivores devel- 
oping resistance and some fungi winding up as in- 
sect food regardless. 

Several leaf fungi produce antibiotics that hinder 
the growth of other fungi. After all, when many 
species share the leaf surface, they are competing 
both for food and for precious space. Scientists in- 
tensively study these interfungal rivalries in labora- 
tory cultures, because they may hold a key to con- 
trolhng the fiingal diseases that commonly afflict 
commercial wheat, rye, barley, and bean crops. 
(The nonselective fungicides currently used on 
some commercial crops also kill the beneficial epi- 
phytes that may naturally inhibit the proliferation of 
their disease-causing cousins. In fact, the use of 
such chemicals may sometimes lead to an increase 
rather than a decrease in plant diseases.) 

Leaves may indeed benefit from the presence of 
their fungal colonists, but the fungi also have a 
good thing going. The deceptively clean-looking 
surface of a fresh leaf contains a bounty- of organic 
particles — pollen, spores, and other windblown 
debris — as w-ell as nutritious materials that leak 
firom the leaf's epidermal cells. But in nature, plen- 
tiful sources of food energy seldom go uncontested 
for long. 

About 1.5 million fungal species exist on our 
planet. Many of them flourish in a broad range of 
habitats, and nearly all of them are adapted tor 
wide dispersal. With billions of fungal spores in 
the air, the pioneer populations on the leaf are 
quickly infiltrated by newcomers. The most suc- 

Adapted from 
Atttutmt: A Season of 
Chtjiige, by Peter J. 
Marchand. Cop\Tight 
© 2000 by Univenity 
Press of New 
England. Reprinted 
with permission. 


ECOSYSTEMS natural history 5/00 

The surface of a 
fir needle, below, 
is laden with 
fungal hyphae 
and spores. Late 
in the life cycle 
of a leaf — or. 

cessful of the early invaders are certain kinds of 
Ascomycetes, a large class of fungi that includes 
truffles and morels as well as most molds and 
yeasts. Cladosporium herbarum, for example, is a 
species that grows in velvety green, branching 
chains and has a notorious tolerance of extremes 
(one strain of C. herbarum attacks meat in cold 
storage and can thrive at 20° F) . These fungi are 
often quickly joined by other species, including 
those in the genera Penicillium and Fusarium (the 
latter is known for its parasitic strains that com- 
monly attack vegetable crops). These "weedy" 
species are capable of fast growth under relatively 
impoverished conditions. 

more commonly, 
after the leaf 
has fallen from 
the tree — 
right, fruits in 
treelike tufts 
(here magnified 
305 times). 

By the time most tree leaves have matured, sev- 
eral thousand fungal spores per square inch, repre- 
senting many different species, may be found on 
their surfaces. Life on the surface of a leaf is not 
easy, though, and for many of the later arrivals, the 
stay is short. Viewed at the inicroscopic level, the 
epidermis of the leaf appears no more hospitable 
than the rugged canyon country of the arid South- 
west, to which it bears a remarkable structural re- 

semblance. What appears to the eye as a smooth,! 
flat leaf surface is instead a complex landscape of 
erosional features that have been worn into the leaf 
cuticle from the gradual physical and microbiologi- 
cal breakdown of its waxy coating. The tiny 
canyons and crevices of the leaf are laden with the 
organic resources needed to sustain fungal growth, 
yet relative to the topographic features of the leaf, 
the newly arrived spore sits naked and exposed, Uke 
a giant boulder on a desert landscape. 

By the time most tree 
leaves have matured, 
they may host thousands 
of fungal spores per 
square inch. 

Of all the spores that settle on the leaf's surface 
(many having gotten there by wind or a splash of 
rain), surprisingly few are able to survive for long 
under these conditions. Nutritional shortages — es- 
pecially on the younger leaves, which leak fewer 
metaboHtes and have not yet accumulated substan- 
tial organic debris — often bring about competition 
and restricted growth. And although nutrients keep 
accumulating as spring rolls around to summer and 
as the leaf ages, equally challenging new circum- 
stances are imposed on the leaf fungi. Midsummer 
weather, for instance, rapidly 
parches the surface of a leaf flut- 
tering in the warm breeze, and 
with frequent thunderstorms 
come torrents of rain that easily 
wash spores out of the canopy. 
To mediate such extremes, the 
fungal colonists secrete sticky 
mucilaginous sheaths that help 
them hang on, but it's a tenuous 
existence nevertheless. Some 
populations die; others encase 
themselves in thick-walled 
"resting structures" and weather 
the drought while the new arrivals try to settle in. It 
takes a hardy pioneering type to succeed under 
these circumstances. 

By late summer, however, fungal spore produc- 
tion reaches its peak, the atmospheric fallout onto 
the canopy becomes increasingly heavy, and new 
recruits on the leaf surface begin to outnumber 
casualties. The same sticky secretion that holds 

Like Aspergillus, 
the fungus 
Penidllium grows 
best on wounded 
leaves or in moist 
leaf litter. Inset: 
Hyphae and 
fruiting bodies of 
(magnified 205 

one fungus to the le.i( ,ilst> eiKibles tlie spores ot 
Others to become attached to it. With the onset ot 
fall, conditions become somewhat easier for the 
flmgi. Moisture abounds as dew settles on the fo- 
liage in the chilly autumn mornings, and the 
cooler days mean less evaporation. These factors, 
along with the continuing accumulation ot pollen, 
set the stage tor yet another community shitt on 
the leaf's surface. Many of the early colonists have 
by now relinquished the site to competitors better 
suited for these new conditions. Succession is 
again under way. 

What began as a passive partnership between 

plant and fungi high in the forest canopy gradually 
shifts emphasis. While the leaf was young and 
healthy, many other fungal colonists — the true 
saprophytes (organisms living on dead or decaying 
matter) — remained quiescent. But with the onset of 
autumn and senescence, these decomposers emerge 
from dormancy and soon take over. High above the 
ground, the annual recychng of leaf material — the 
ultimate return of nutrients and organic matter to 
the soil — begins slowly but inexorably. In the end, 
it appears that the plant, through its remarkable life- 
long partnership with fungi, has indeed married the 
undertaker. D 


:^V .jf-vSivi 

. **? 3 







:-«it.-., . «%»,.■; 

74 I EXPEDITIONS natural history 5/00 

Searching fo 

Remnants of the herds 
ancestral to all domesticated 
camels may still survive in 
the deserts of central Asia. 

Story by John Hare ~ Illustration by Rodica Prato 

Jt is late April 1999, and we are about to set out 
into the Gobi's Chinese sector, a desert in 
whose heart the temperatures range from -10° F 
in December to 150° F in August and where less 
than an inch of precipitation may fall during the 
year. We go in search of wild Bactrian (two- 
humped) camels — remnants, we beheve, of the an- 
cestral herds that gave rise to all domesticated 
camels, both two-humped and one-humped. Per- 
haps no more than a thousand of these elusive ani- 
mals survive, about a third in Mongolia and the rest 
in China, both here in this part of the Gobi and, to 
the west, in the Taldimakan Desert. Even in these 
marginal ranges, the animals are increasingly threat- 
ened — by iron-ore mining, gold extraction (which 
contaminates the land with potassium cyanide), oil 
prospecting, and illegal hunting. 

The wild camels' last best hope is in the Chinese 
Gobi, where the goverrmient has just authorized 
the estabHshment of the Lop Nur Nature Sanctuary. 
This 60,000-square-mile preserve includes the dry 
lake bed of Lop Nur (now cut off by irrigation 
channels from its former water supply) and the 
highly restricted zone where China conducted nu- 
clear testing until 1996. The sanctuary project must 
be quickly translated into reality, and we hope to 
gather information on the number of animals and 
their condition, and whatever else we can glean 
about their lives. 

Seven years ago, I had no idea that somewhere 
in the world there might be truly wild camels, as 
opposed to feral ones. But having had some experi- 
ence with camels in Africa